Leading article: Praise patience and Europe for saving our beef industry

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The Independent Culture
LET US now praise patient men. You need turn back only a few days, to last week's hysterical attacks by Opposition politicians and other excitable commentators, to recall how ministers were being excoriated for even talking to the French about their concerns over reintroducing British beef to their food markets. With the formal lawsuit against France, launched yesterday by the European Commission, and a statement by the French farm minister Jean Glavany to the national assembly that he would be putting details of a revised programme to his country's food safety agency, the Agriculture Minister Nick Brown's softly, softly approach would seem to have delivered.

The imbroglio with Paris may all along have been a result more of French incompetence than of clever chauvinism. If Lionel Jospin's government had thought to get its new food agency on side before it agreed to the European plan to lift the ban on British beef, it wouldn't have found itself forced to agree to a face-saving formula to allow it to come into line with EU law. If they haven't done the preparatory work this time, given that experts are famously loyal to their own opinions, it is still possible that the French food safety agency may reject the new proposals.

Even if this latest Euro-row may soon be consigned to the history books, it could leave some damaging consequences behind. This is despite the fact that the European Union has done more good than harm to our beef industry; after all, our European partners are just about the only countries in the world who will take our beef. And, as a result of the scientifically sanctioned rearing and slaughtering policies that have been so publicly endorsed by scientists in Brussels, confidence in the safety of British beef products should, rationally at least, have grown. In fact, the extra precautions that have been agreed with the French - such as taking out of commercial circulation all the animals of the same age from any herd in which an animal has been found with BSE - should be welcome here as well as abroad.

But even though it is true that without the aid of Brussels it is unlikely that we should be exporting any beef at all to the Continent, what people will remember best is the sound and fury that accompanied the row with France. As the details fade, the distortions will remain; and that extra little suspicion of our European partners will be unfairly added to the great heap of Europhobia patiently built up by the Little Englanders in the press and in politics.