- (AFP) -- France lifted its ban on British beef, imposed
six years ago because of fears about the spread of mad cow disease, bringing
to a close a bitter cross-channel dispute.
- The decision brought France into line with the rest of
the European Union, which removed its embargo on British beef in 1999,
and followed a ruling from the country's food safety agency AFSSA that
the meat no longer poses a threat.
- However officials said there was little chance of a major
inrush of British beef into France, which before the ban was Britain's
biggest export market.
- Enduring consumer anxieties in Europe about the dangers
of mad cow disease -- bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) -- combined
with tough controls on the British herd mean that only a tiny amount of
British beef is currently being sent abroad.
- France imposed the ban on British beef in March 1996
along with the rest of the 15-nation EU, after scientists established a
link between BSE -- then epidemic in British cattle -- and the fatal brain-wasting
disease in humans, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).
- The EU lifted the ban in August 1999 after Britain introduced
new safety measures, but Paris maintained its embargo, saying it was not
convinced that British beef was safe.
- Britain pursued France through the European Court of
Justice, which last December ruled that Paris was in breach of EU law,
and the decision to lift the ban removed the prospect of non-compliance
fines worth 158,250 euros (155,000 dollars) a day.
- British Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett welcomed
France's decision Wednesday. "I am very pleased for British farming
that this issue is being resolved. It has been a completely unwarranted
shadow hanging over our beef industry for more than three years,"
- Jon Bullock, spokesman for Britain's Meat and Livestock
Commission (MLC), said: "The ban sent out all the wrong messages about
British beef and we are happy it has been lifted," Bullock added.
- Announcing the ban's removal -- which becomes effective
after a decree is published in France's official gazette -- the government
of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin also unveiled two new measures intended
to reassure French public opinion about the safety of eating beef.
- Ticketing rules which already oblige butchers and supermarkets
to mark the national origin of their beef will be extended to school canteens,
restaurants and other public eating-places.
- And Agriculture Minister Herve Gaymard is to press the
European Commission in Brussels to order BSE tests on beef cattle aged
24 months across the EU. Currently only France, Germany, Italy and Spain
test at 24 months, and other countries at 30 months.
- In Brussels, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer
Protection David Byrne welcomed the French decision, saying it "validated"
EU scientific opinion which had ruled the meat safe three years ago.
- In its ruling on September 20, AFSSA noted that the incidence
of BSE had diminished sharply in Britain, and there was now only a "very
weak residual risk (of contamination)... Evidence suggests that the current
system can be relaxed without jeopardising the security of French consumers."
- According to Britain's Department for Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs, there were 1,000 cases of BSE detected in cattle last
year, compared to more than 35,000 when the disease was at its peak in
1992. France -- where BSE appeared in 1991 -- has officially registered
- More than 100 people have died of vCJD in Britain, and
five in France.
- To combat the disease Britain introduced a ban on meat
and bone meal -- believed to be BSE's carrier -- and a selective culling
programme. In addition no animal aged over 30 months is allowed to enter
the food chain. Nearly five million animals have been slaughtered.
- Before the ban France took in 30 percent of British beef
exports. In 1995 it imported 80,000 tons with a value of 179 million pounds
(285 million euros), according to the French office of the MLC. Today Britain
imports French beef.
- "Today British beef is the creme de la creme. It
comes only from young steers and heifers fed on grass. Our difficulty is
that our production has suffered so much that we are now too expensive
for the European market," said the MLC's French representative Remi
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