End near for beef on bone ban

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THE BAN on beef on the bonecould be lifted next week by Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, as Downing Street mounts a concerted campaign to convince the French that British beef is safe.

Beef was on the agenda, but off the menu during the Anglo-French summit at Downing Street yesterday. At lunch in Downing Street, Tony Blair, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin dined on scallops, British pheasant, and French wine. The French leaders raised hopes that France's illegal ban on British beef could be lifted "in days" but they insisted that a final decision would rest with their food safety agency, but that could also come next week. When the ban is lifted, President Chirac said that he will "have much pleasure in ordering British beef to be served" at the Elysee Palace.

The continuing UK ban on beef on the bone remains an obstacle to French acceptance of British meat but Mr Brown is hoping to lift the ban on retail sales after a meeting of the three Chief Medical Officers England, Wales and Scotland. Mr Brown is determined to stick to the scientific advice, and wants the ban to be lifted across the UK. But he has been told by the CMO for England, Dr Liam Donaldson, that it would be safe, and he is considering lifting the ban in England and in Northern Ireland, if necessary.

Whitehall sources said lifting the ban would be a clear signal to the French that British beef was safe. The ban would remain on the commercial use of beef on the bone for the manufacture of soups, stocks and other meat products.