French beef decision due

10 December 1999

French beef decision due

By Philip Clarke

FRANCE was due to announce yesterday (Thur), whether it would lift its ban on British beef, following a second report from its food standards agency (AFSSA) and continued legal pressure from Brussels.

As FARMERS WEEKLY went to press this week, the signs were that the ban would be lifted – though questions were still being asked in Brussels about the exact requirements on labelling and traceability, prompting fears of further delays.

The report from AFSSA into the safety of British beef was described as "neutral" by most observers. The agency made clear its belief there was still some risk associated with the product, but left it for government to decide if this was sufficiently small to justify lifting the ban.

AFSSA accepted that some of the measures included in the "protocol of understanding" reached two weeks ago between Paris, London and Brussels, (News, Nov 26), were "useful".

In particular, keeping the cohorts of any BSE casualties born after Aug 1, 1996, out of the food chain would help reduce risk, as would introducing BSE testing in animals over 30-months-old.

But it also recommended that any decision by the French government should take three factors into account:

&#8226 That there is still some scientific uncertainty with respect to infectivity and transmission of BSE.

&#8226 That the additional control measures in the memorandum do not have a direct or immediate impact on reducing these risks.

&#8226 That any decision to lift the ban must be instantly reversible if new evidence comes to light.

British officials in Paris were optimistic this provided enough political leeway for France to lift its ban, without appearing to be ignoring its food safety advisors. "AFSSA has limited itself to assessing the risks, while leaving it to government to decide how to manage them."

The commission also turned up the pressure on France this week, indicating it would move to the second stage of legal proceedings if the ban was not lifted by yesterday.

The first stage of infringement procedures was launched by food safety commissioner, David Byrne, three weeks ago.

A decision to lift the ban could be enacted relatively swiftly. According to British officials, the draft legislation is already in place and publication in the French official journal could be done within days.

But the NFU is concerned that amending national labelling laws, to cater for identifying British beef right through to retail level, could lead to further delays.

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