French ban:Was Brown right is the question?

5 November 1999

French ban:Was Brown right is the question?

By FW reporters

A BITTER row has broken out among farmers leaders and politicians about whether farm minister Nick Brown was right to agree to further talks with the French over British beef exports.

A mixed reaction greeted the news that Mr Brown agreed that scientific experts from France, the UK and the European Commission should sit down again today (Fri) in yet another attempt to resolve the impasse between London and Paris over the French ban.

Some believed Mr Brown was being clever by agreeing to talk and attempting to avoid lengthy legal action. But others accused the minister of being weak and letting down British farmers.

Jim Walker, Scottish NFU president, was furious at the latest development, saying it could encourage other countries, particularly Germany, to question the safety of British beef. "We sent our man to a card game with four aces and he still managed to lose. The whole thing is lunacy."

But Ben Gill, NFU president, was less critical, saying the priority was to get the French ban lifted. Mr Gill insisted that any unnecessary delays or additional conditions were unacceptable. But he added: "At first glance I am not unhappy with this outcome."

Despite the fact that the EU scientific steering committee has dismissed French claims that new scientific evidence supported their continuing ban, Mr Brown claimed there was still merit in "exploring their concerns".

Terry Lee, head of export promotion for the Meat and Livestock Commission, said the decision was a sign Mr Brown was being pragmatic. The alternative was to go to court, a move unlikely to win the confidence of the French public, he said.

But opposition farm minister Tim Yeo accused the government of caving in to the unjustified demands of France. "Mr Brown should leave the French in no doubt that they are drinking in last chance saloon," he said.

Colin Breed, agriculture spokesman for the Lib-Dems, said the governments decision to reopen the whole case was unwise and not in anyones interest other than the French. "Nick Brown is by nature a compromiser, he likes to seek a common agreement. Unfortunately his good nature is now being taken advantage of."

In Wales, the news that British beef would be subjected to further scrutiny provoked outrage. Bob Parry, president of the Farmers Union of Wales, said it was disgraceful that Mr Brown had caved in to illegal and indefensible French pressure.

"British beef has been cleared of all charges but is being tried over and over again at the whim of certain European countries, and each time the wrong messages are being sent to consumers," said Mr Parry.

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