21 June 2002

Spinal cord ban set to be dropped by French

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

FRANCES new government is poised to drop the controversial plan to force the removal of spinal cord from all sheep over six months old and could even lift the ban on British beef in the next few months.

The previous socialist government had sought to introduce the spinal cord ban from July 1 to minimise any risks from BSE in sheep. The move would have had a devastating impact on UK export businesses, faced with rising costs and loss of carcass value.

French processors had also resisted the plan, claiming it was unnecessary and unworkable.

The new, right-wing administration is believed to be much more sympathetic to the industrys concerns. According to French wire services, an announcement to drop the plan, or at least postpone it, is expected at the National Meat Federations (FNICVG) general assembly today (June 21).

The development follows a meeting between the UKs Meat and Livestock Commission and the French authorities last week, in which it was made clear that, even if the spinal cord ban was put in place, it would be impractical and possibly illegal for exporters to provide the necessary veterinary certificates.

"We have worked very closely with the French meat trade on this one, which, combined with pressure from the commission, has brought about the change of view," said MLC export manager Peter Hardwick.

One possible stumbling block has been the recent call from the UKs Food Standards Agency for Brussels to introduce an EU-wide ban on sheep intestines from the human food chain to counter the theoretical risk of BSE in sheep.

A formal opinion is due from the EUs scientific steering committee at the end of the month, though so far it has resisted this move.

Meanwhile, there have been encouraging signs that the French ban on British beef could soon be lifted.

EU food safety commissioner, David Byrne, is expected to write to the French administration next week issuing a second legal warning and giving them two weeks in which to act or face court proceedings to set a level of fines.

But the new French government appears to be moving towards lifting the ban anyway. The French embassy in London is understood to have contacted the MLC last week seeking information on the likely volumes of meat that might be exported if it did lift the ban.

More significantly, the new administration is preparing a request for its own food agency (AFSSA) to assess the relative safety of British beef against imports from other countries. In the past it has only concerned itself with the absolute safety of British beef. &#42