Letter: Legal beef

Sir: If, as Imre Karacs reports ("Germans want extra safety tests on UK beef", 5 August ), the German Lander are insisting that British beef be labelled British, this would be flying in the face of a European Court of Justice ruling.

On 25 April 1985 (Case 207/83), the court rejected the argument that consumer protection was safeguarded by compulsory indications of national origin. Indeed, the court believed that it was protectionism rather than consumer protection which was promoted by highlighting the national origin of products, as such practice might prompt the consumer to give preference to certain national products and enable them to "assert any prejudices which they may have against foreign products".

There is one crumb of comfort for British beef farmers. Protectionist labelling can backfire spectacularly. The label "Made in Germany" was brought into being in 1887 by the then world export champion Great Britain as a protectionist measure aimed at preventing unscrupulous German companies from plagiarising or adapting British trade marks and hallmarks as a means of overcoming Germany's reputation for producing "cheap and nasty" products. But forcing German firms to identify the provenance of German-made products proved to be a wonderful free advertisement. The rest is history.

Professor DAVID HEAD

University of Northumbria at Newcastle