15 October 1999

France allows beef access

FRANCE has agreed, "as a gesture of goodwill", to allow British beef to travel through its territory, easing access to potential buyers in southern Europe.

But the general ban on selling the product in France remains.

Pressure for the French government to lift its ban, and come into line with EU law, was increased this week.

Foreign secretary, Robin Cook, raised the matter with his French counterpart at a council meeting in Luxembourg, while NFU president, Ben Gill, was in Brussels for urgent talks with top EU officials.

A sub-group of the EU standing veterinary committee was yesterday trawling through a 300-page dossier from the French food standards agency, detailing why it thinks British beef is unsafe. Depending on the outcome, the report may be passed to the main committee.

Head of export marketing at the Meat and Livestock Commission, Terry Lee, is concerned that if this happens there is a danger of the whole export scheme unravelling. But, speaking at this weeks Anuga food fair in Germany, he was confident there would be no new evidence in the report. "British scientists have all the information there is on BSE."

But a quick solution seems unlikely. After a meeting with the EU Commission on Tuesday (Oct 12), French junior health minister, Marylise Lebranchu, said British beef could not be considered totally safe until 2001.

That is five years after the meat and bonemeal feed ban was introduced, the average incubation period of BSE.

Furthermore, the Paris government will not want to fly in the face of public opinion. A survey by Catholic newspaper, La Croix, this week shows that 86% of the French population support the continuing beef ban.