Archive Article: 1999/10/08

8 October 1999

Justify ban or

else, France told

By Philip Clarke

FRANCE has been given until today (Friday) to come up with a scientific justification for continuing its ban on British beef, or face the possibility of legal action by the EU Commission.

In a letter to the French government on Tuesday, consumer protection commissioner, David Byrne, demanded a detailed explanation of its action by the end of the week.

If there was any new scientific evidence, then that would be passed to the standing scientific committee for examination. If not, then France should lift the ban immediately, said the letter.

Nothing new

Addressing Euro-MPs in Strasbourg, Mr Byrne later said that, on the basis of preliminary advice, the French authorities had no new evidence.

So far Brussels is playing down the possibility of legal action, as it tries for a diplomatic solution. "We are taking it step by step," said a spokesman. The time involved in pursuing infringement proceedings – which could result in fines on the French and compensation to the UK – makes this a last resort. But if all else fails, then legal action will be initiated.

The decision by France to maintain its blockade followed a report from the countrys recently-formed food safety agency, which concluded that, "given current scientific knowledge, the risk of Britain exporting meat from infected animals cannot be ruled out".

But this has been rubbished by the Meat and Livestock Commission. "The report is based on numerous false assumptions about the incidence of BSE and the requirements of the date-based scheme," said head of export marketing, Terry Lee.

He put the loss of beef sales to France at about £250m a year. More importantly, a separate ban on the transport of British beef on French roads was preventing the UK re-establishing trade links with Spain and Italy, which between them had taken £100m of prime beef in 1995 – the year before the BSE crisis struck.

"I cannot tell you how angry I am, and how difficult it will be to stop counter action against the French, especially at the ports, by farmers whose livelihoods are on the line," said Mr Lee.

"The French governments decision…is no more than a barefaced attempt to protect French markets. If it is allowed to continue, the very foundation of European law and order must be in question," he added.

Most organisations urged consumers to boycott French goods.

UK farm minister, Nick Brown, this week admitted he was avoiding French produce, but advised against tit-for-tat trade embargoes. A MAFF spokesman added that separate legal action by the UK against France was unlikely for now, as that was commissions responsibility.

Despite the mounting pressure, prospects of a swift solution seem remote. French agriculture minister, Jean Glavany, this week denied his countrys actions were in any way protectionist, but it could not ignore the advice of its own scientists. And he pointed to Germany, which also continues to ban sales of British beef.

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