14 December 1999
‘Britain rejected French beef offer’
By Donald MacPhail
BRITAIN snubbed an offer which would have seen some British beef back on sale in France, French prime minister Lionel Jospin has claimed.
Mr Jospin said he offered to exempt British beef from the French ban if it came from cattle fed only on grass — such as some Scottish Angus herds.
But the offer was turned down by the British government, which insisted the French ban should be lifted across the UK, Mr Jospin told journalists in Paris.
The claim, which came to light on Tuesday (14 December) as the European Commission told France to lift its ban within five days or face court action, angered Scottish farmers.
Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, described Mr Jospins statement as a “scurrilous” attempt to shift the spotlight from France.
Mr Walker said no serious and detailed proposals had been put forward by France to allow Scottish beef to return to the French market ahead of British beef.
“This can only be a blatant attempt by the French to shift attention away from their unwarranted and illegal action,” he said.
But Alasdair Morgan, rural affairs spokesman for the Scottish National Party, said failing to allow exports of grass-fed beef was a “betrayal of Scotland”.
Mr Morgan called for the resignation of Ross Finnie, Scotlands rural affairs minister, and demanded an emergency statement from the Scottish Executive.
Mr Morgan said: “France was Scotlands largest beef export market prior to the ban, worth £45 million per annum, and this would have been a golden opportunity.
“It would have been a lifeline to the Scottish beef sector, and saved jobs and farms that are on the line in Scotland.”
He added: “London must now reverse this veto so we can get the bulk of Scottish beef back into Europe now.”
The Ministry of Agriculture dismissed Mr Jospins comments as “mischief-making”, insisting the dispute was over beef exports from the whole of Britain.
Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said: “The date-based scheme is an abattoir based scheme, not a herd based scheme or a regional scheme.
“There is a separate export certified herd scheme in Northern Ireland which runs alongside the date-based export scheme.”
The French news agency AFX reported that Mr Jospin still believes a partial lifting of the ban remains a possible way of ending the beef dispute.