`End ban' plea to EU chief who backed beef

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The Independent Online
Demand for an end to the ban on British beef was mounting last night after farmers and politicians reacted furiously to European Union admissions that it is perfectly safe to eat.

Franz Fischler, the EU Agriculture Commissioner administering the ban, said he "would not hesitate to eat beef in England", while one of his aides went further, saying: "If we really thought British beef was unsafe its sale would have been banned in Britain as well as everywhere else in the world."

The National Farmers' Union led calls on Mr Fischler to persuade member states to lift the ban, something Gavin Strang, Labour's agriculture spokesman, said he believed the commissioner was keen to do.

"In my own discussions with Mr Fischler, he has led me to believe he would like to see the ban lifted sooner rather than later," said Mr Strang. "His comments are not helpful at this point, but I am pleased he shares our belief that the ban should be lifted."

The latest row flared after Mr Fischler told a reporter from Reuters news agency that beef remained his favourite meat. "I wouldn't hesitate to eat beef in England. I see no medical reason not to," he said. The ban had been imposed not in the interests of public safety, but to prevent the whole European beef market from collapsing. If British beef had not been banned, he said, no other European countries would have been able to export their beef.

His admission was greeted with anger among some MPs, who argued that Britain was being victimised economically to save the beef industries of other countries.

Sir Gerard Vaughan, Tory MP for Reading East, said: "This is an absolutely astonishing situation. Here is the man who has made Britain a scapegoat and is victimising the British farmer and the British taxpayer now conceding that all this has been done just for the convenience of Europe ... The situation is totally indefensible."

Trevor Hayes, spokesman for the NFU, said: "Although Mr Fischler can make proposals, the decision to impose the ban was taken by the Council of Ministers, so we would like to see him persuade the governments of the member states to see his point of view."

The International Meat Trade Association described Mr Fischler's intervention as "too little, too late". Jenny Burt, chairwoman of the association's export committee, said: "It is a pity he did not say this very publicly when the question of a ban was first raised."

The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food said Douglas Hogg550, the Minister of Agriculture, would announce details of compensation for farmers and proposals to shore up the beef industry later this week. Full details of proposed culls will not be submitted to the European Commission until the end of the month.

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