EU court says ban on British beef must stay

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The Independent Online
The European Court of Justice yesterday rejected Britain's call to lift the world-wide ban on exports of British beef.

Scientific evidence of a link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), justified the European Commission's decision to impose the ban to protect European public health, the court in Luxembourg ruled.

The Government had hoped that the court might at least lift the ban on beef exports to third countries. But the court upheld the ban in its entirety.

The ruling raises new questions about the value of the framework agreement by European heads of government in Florence, setting out conditions for a phased lifting of the ban.

Under that agreement Britain must satisfy new BSE eradication tests before applying for parts of the ban to be lifted.

The Luxembourg Court's ruling was preceded by a flurry of new anxiety on the continent about British beef, com- pounded by German reports that infected beef was being smuggled through.

Presenting the British case, Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, told the judges that the Commission had acted beyond its powers in order to shore up consumer confidence and preserve the European beef market. He said that measures had been taken to prevent the spread of BSE, and therefore the ban, which had irreparably damaged British farmers, was "disproportionate".

However, the court affirmed that the UK's own Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) in March had stated that the "most likely explanation" of new cases of CJD was a link to BSE, and that this "important" new evidence justified the Commission's intervention.

"Scientists have as yet only an imperfect knowledge of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and, more particularly, its recently discovered variant. There is at present no cure . . . Death ensues several months after diagnosis.

"Since the most likely explanation of this fatal disease is exposure to BSE, there can be no hesitation [in continuing the ban]," said the court.

It was impossible to trace infected cattle to their herds, slaughterhouses were failing to remove infected meat, and suspect bone meal was still being circulated.

The ruling is certain to provoke accusations in Britain of a "political" judgement and bring new government calls for a reduction in the powers of the Luxembourg Court.