04 July 1997
EU disclosure impedes beef fraud investigation
Chances of laying charges against a mafia style operation which was illegally exporting British beef under Belgium labels might have been foiled thanks to the EUs eagerness in making the allegations public.
British authorities are reportedly livid with Brussels which revealed that 1,600 tonnes of British beef, slaughtered in the UK, was exported to Belgium where it was sold on to third countries including Russia, Egypt and Bosnia.
The EU made the allegations on Wednesday – which was appropriately the same day the British Government and the National Farmers Union fronted the European Court to argue against the EUs continual ban on British beef.
Ministry for Agriculture Fisheries and Food spokeswoman Sophie Mercado said the UK government was already investigating the allegations and was trying to get to the bottom of it when the EU went public.
We werent about to prosecute, but we were still looking into it. We were trying to keep it quiet because we didnt want to tip people off, Ms Mercado said.
We are not giving out details about how close we were to concluding our investigations. All we are saying is that we were aware of the allegations and we were investigating them.
Its believed that those involved in the scam were cutting off the British stamps on the beef consignments and restamping them as Belgium beef – complete with false papers.
The European Commission has seized 700 tonnes of British beef with the remaining 900 tonnes supposedly exported to Russia, Egypt and Bosnia. Earlier statements that some of the beef made its way to consumers in France, Spain, Portugal and Italy are apparently false.
The EU is yet to decide whether it will take legal action against the UK for failing to prevent the exports, after it was revealed that British officials only make twice-monthly random checks on lorries leaving the UK.
The EU banned British beef exports in March last year after scientists announced that there was a possible link between BSE – dubbed mad cow disease – and CJD the fatal brain condition which has killed 18 people in the UK to date.