Leading Article: The consumers, not ministers, will decide the beef war

THE RELUCTANCE of some of the German and French authorities to lift the ban on British beef imports suggests that the beef war may not, after all, be over. Despite all the efforts of the British authorities and all the patient presentation of the arguments by the minister responsible, Elliot Morley, our European neighbours remain to be truly convinced that le rosbif is truly safe to eat.

Of course, the European Council of Ministers has declared that the ban should end, and this decision has the effect and force of law. Converting this into domestic legislation in some member countries, though, is met with foot-dragging and protests about the rights of individual states. There is a lot of sabre-rattling in return by the British about legal action. The attitude of some of our European partners is certainly not very communautaire. It is, though, understandable.

The French and the Germans are, after all, contemplating some unknowable consequences for the health of their people. The stakes are, potentially, of the highest order of magnitude. We know now, thanks to the research work forced on the British government, that there is a link between BSE and new-variant CJD in humans. We also know that our abattoirs and other parts of the food-processing cycle do not always live up to the claims made about them, and that even the most conscientious officials cannot supervise all meat-processing plants all the time. There remains a good deal to be cautious about.

Tempting as it is to put the attitude of the German and French authorities down to a willingness to protect their own farmers or simple perfidy, there is more to it than that. At the heart of this lies the question of consumer confidence, and that was wrecked in Britain - as in the rest of Europe - by the whole failure of food safety after our meat industry was so carelessly deregulated in the 1980s. It was a very British mess, and we cannot blame anyone else for it but ourselves.

We should not allow resentment at the apparent unfairness of the situation to blind us to what is the really important obstacle to the acceptance of our beef, which is not chauvinism, but confidence. This cannot be restored simply by ministerial fiat. Even if British beef were allowed unfettered into every market in Europe, there is no guarantee that anyone would want to buy it. Perhaps consumers should be given the choice, but as the German Minister of Health, Andrea Fischer, commented: "I think it is also in British interests that we take some more measures of reinforcing trust in Germany about British beef."

That may be illegal, even a touch arrogant, but it is almost certainly right. We will only win the beef war when we win back the confidence of the consumers. We may still need some help with that.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas