French victims of CJD to sue Britain and EU

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The families of two French victims who developed the human form of "mad cow" disease plan to sue Britain for its role in allegedly allowing bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to enter the human food chain.

The families of two French victims who developed the human form of "mad cow" disease plan to sue Britain for its role in allegedly allowing bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) to enter the human food chain.

François Honnorat, lawyer for the families of 36-year-old Laurence Duhamel, who died last February, and 19-year-old Arnaud Eboli, who is critically ill, said he would file his case today alleging that Britain, France and the European Union were all culpable.

The 100-page lawsuit accuses Europe and the two governments of failing in their duty to ensure food safety and of opposing changes to the law governing the controls over beef during a 10-year period between 1986, when BSE was first identified, and 1996, when it evidence emerged that it had crossed into humans.

Honnorat is filing a "complaint against persons unknown" that judicial experts will study to establish whether there is a case for a full-blown legal inquiry that might be brought to the courts.

"The plaintiffs' suit covers a whole range of issues showing the lack of action taken to limit the BSE epidemic and the human consequences, at the level of the French authorities, those of the European Union and also in Britain," Honnorat said.

France was the biggest export market for British beef before it was banned in 1996. It is widely accepted that many cows infected with BSE were sent abroad at the height of the epidemic at the end of the 1980s, although France is now known to have its own indigenous BSE.

The ground-breaking legal action comes as France's political leaders struggle to contain further panic over BSE, which scientists believe has caused the variant form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a deadly brain-wasting disorder of humans.

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