18 July 1997
EU takes action against UK
THE European Union has announced that it has started legal action against the UK government over what it describes as manifest ineffectiveness in allowing British beef to be exported into other member states.
EU consumer affairs commissioner Emma Bonino said a pre-infringement letter was sent to UK authorities on July 8, and that the commission was now considering opening infringement proceedings on the matter.
Speaking before European MPs at an inquiry committee in Stasbourg, Ms Bonino said the commission was also examining whether Belgian authorities correctly applied EU legislation.
Farms minister Dr Jack Cunningham was at the Strasbourg inquiry to defend the UK government and to reassure the EU that all the allegations were being dealt with seriously.
The UK Government has closed two meat plants, the Millend Cold Store and Heine Foods cutting plant, who were both allegedly involved in the illegal export of British beef – despite the 16-month export ban placed on British beef over the BSE crisis.
In addition, the UK government told the EU that it would extend random inspections to ports and to strengthen its laws, in order to stamp out fraud and take action against those who try to break the beef ban.
The UK is under obligation to implement and enforce the export ban firmly and effectively for as long as it is in place. Only in this way will we regain the trust of our European partners, which is essential pre-requisite to an early lifting of the export ban, Dr Cunningham said.
The EUs legal threat comes after 1650 tonnes of British beef was sold to a Belgian company and illegally exported to Holland, Russia, Equatorial Guinea, Poland, Bosnia Herzegovina and to Egypt with false stamps and documentation.
Out of this 1650t, 700t has already been seized by Dutch authorities, whilst 172t, which was destined for Russia, was found in Germany, and a further 142t was rejected by Egyptian authorities.