17 November 1999
Turn up heat under French — Gill

By FWi staff

POLITICAL and commercial pressure must now be raised to force France to lift its ban on British beef, says National Farmers Union leader Ben Gill.

Reacting to news that the European Commission is launching legal action against France, Mr Gill praised European food commissioner David Byrne for a robust and unequivocal stance.

But Mr Gill said he was not prepared to wait for lengthy legal action to take effect.

Speaking to Radio 4s Farming Today, Mr Gill said: “Legal action is important in raising the political pressure on the French government, and that needs to be effected with commercial pressure.”

Mr Gill said he was heartened by signs that France was moving towards a negotiated settlement, but was angered they were still stalling.

Yesterday French agriculture minister Jean Glavany said both countries were close to a provisional accord, but that several details still had to be worked out.

Mr Gill said: “I am heartened that there has been progress with the French government. There is the basis for an agreement if they stop this filibustering approach.

“Again we go back to details which seem to have been resolved earlier.”

Mr Gill conceded if the ban were lifted there would initially be little demand for British beef, but said it was a vital step in restoring French public confidence in the product.

He added that a robust approach must also be taken with Germany, which has put on hold any moves to lift its ban on British beef.

The French government was reportedly shocked at the EC decision to begin legal proceedings.

Mr Byrne yesterday (Tuesday) told the European Parliament he was convinced the ban could be lifted in the near future and has given France two weeks to submit a reply to the commission.

Although the EU lifted its three-and-a-half-year BSE ban in August, France and Germany have retained boycotts, citing concerns about the safety of British beef.