Tories could spark beef war

15 November 2000

Tories ‘could spark beef war’

By Johann Tasker

TORY calls for a ban on French beef imports because of BSE could backfire and lead to a tit-for-tat trade war with Britain, farmers leaders have warned.

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo urged the government to ban shipments of French beef as fears mount that BSE-infected meat is reaching Britain.

Mr Yeo wrote to agriculture minister Nick Brown claiming that the government may be taking risks by refusing to act on sub-standard imports.

“The refusal to stand up to his French counterpart shows once again that he is more interested in protecting French farmers than British consumers,” he said.

But the National Farmers Union, which this month holds its second “British Beef and Beer Day” in support of home-grown produce, called for caution.

Banning French beef imports could prompt France to impose a retaliatory ban on all types of British meat – not just beef, said a union spokeswoman.

“We have to be careful that we protect our sheep industry,” she said. “We export a massive amount of sheepmeat to France.”

Ministry of Agriculture figures show that 29,000 tonnes of British sheepmeat was shipped to France in the first seven months of this year.

That market, which accounts for 68% of all sheep exports, could become more lucrative if French confidence in beef continues to plummet.

Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, said Scottish farmers could be caught up in the chaos surrounding French beef.

The European market is awash with tonnes of cheap Irish beef which would normally have been exported to France and is now searching for outlets, he said.

“Its not surprising that much of the product may start to find its way to mainland UK. There are already signs of this pressure in the English beef market.”

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