28 October 1999
West Country drafts beef and cider to front line

WEST Country farmers in London to meet the French ambassador have vowed to escalate protests if France does not lift its ban on British beef.

“We will fight the French at the ports and at the tunnel just as they have fought against us,” Devon farmer John James told the London Evening Standard

“We will never surrender British agriculture to another nation,” said Mr James who led a delegation of 25 to the French Embassy in Knightsbridge.

The farmers offered ambassador Daniel Louis Bernard a tray of the best British beef on the bone, which cannot legally be sold in this country

To accompany the meat they gave the ambassador West Country cider and Russet apples.

The group served prime topside grilled on a barbecue to passers-by, along with glasses of West Country cider.

Mr James, who is president of the Mole Valley farmers co-operative, hoped the presentation would persuade the ambassador that British beef is both safe and the best in the world.

“He is French after all and we think he deserves something a bit special. Unfortunately, although all the experts say its safe, its still illegal for us to serve rib to the public.

“We dont want a beef war. We want the French to reconsider their position. Were not here to trade insults but we will not give up without a fight.”

West Country farmers have been at the forefront of action against the unilateral French ban on British beef.

Demonstrators from the southwest have blockaded several ports and tried to turn back French lorries. Fellow farmers in York have asked them to stop this direct action.

This week French farmers blockaded the Channel Tunnel at Calais in retaliation to British supermarket bans on their produce.

Meanwhile, Britain has rejected a French attempt to find a solution to the beef crisis. The French said it might lift its ban if Britain imposed even stricter cattle controls.

This was dismissed by British ministers who say British beef is the safest in the world.

In Brussels scientists are considering French claims that British beef is still contaminated with BSE.

If they decide there is no new evidence to back this claim, the European Commission can proceed with legal action against France.

There are fears that legal action could drag on for years.