EU set to stand firm on beef ban

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The Independent Online
Britain's efforts to persuade its European partners to lift the beef ban look certain to be thwarted again today when veterinary experts meet in Brussels to review the crisis.

Douglas Hogg, the agriculture minister, suggested last week, after a meeting of European agriculture ministers in Luxembourg, that he had persuaded his partners to pave the way for an easing of the ban.

He raised hopes that other EU countries might agree to at least lift the ban on the export of certain beef-related products, particularly gelatine, tallow, beef sperm and embryos.

However, the EU's committee of vetinary experts, which is charged with recommending changes to the restrictions, is not expected to make any moves, the European Commission said yesterday. The commission, which chairs the committee, is not even expected to propose an easing of the ban, knowing that none of the other member states would accept it at this stage.

Other European countries remain determined to keep the ban in force until they are totally satisfied that Britain has taken all the measures possible to eradicate BSE. The British proposals so far are deemed insufficient to restore confidence in the European beef market.

While sales of British beef have begun to rise again in Britain, continental Europeans are still turning away from beef products, wherever they are produced. In Germany, for example, consumption of beef has fallen by about 70 per cent.

Mr Hogg has so far proposed the slaughter of all cattle over 30 months and the slaughter of a further 42,000 cattle believed to be most at risk. However, other Europeans remain concerned about whether the British control and monitoring systems are up to scratch.EU officials say Britain has caused new worry by announcing that it is to accelerate research into the possibility that BSE can be inherited by calves. "That, and the news that BSE has been found in animals that may have been fed infected bone meal since it was banned, do not add up to a very positive picture," said an official. "If infected feed has been used because the ban was not effective then some countries will certainly take that very seriously."

It will be another two weeks before the ban can be discussed again, at an EU agriculture ministers meeting.