European Court upholds British beef ban

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The Independent Online
Britain's beef industry, reeling from the fallout from new research confirming that meat contaminated by BSE causes Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, suffered a further blow yesterday when the Government failed to clear the first round of its bid to have the EU ban on UK beef exports declared illegal.

The European Court's Advocate General, delivering an advisory opinion to help the full 15-member court reach a decision later in the year, said the ban imposed by Brussels 18 months ago was valid.

Although the 24 page opinion from Advocate-General Giuseppe Tesauro is not legally binding and could theoretically be ignored by the court, this is unlikely to happen.

Judge Tesauro upheld the European Commission's decision to impose a worldwide ban on UK beef and cattle exports on the grounds that its aim was to minimise any potential health risks and to reduce widespread consumer alarm.

"The gravity of BSE and the danger of its transmissibility to man constituted a real risk which vindicates the decision," the judge said.

In its challenge to the ban, Britain, backed by the National Farmers' Union, is seeking to have the trade embargo annulled, submitting that the European Commission exceeded its powers.

But rejecting this argument, Judge Tesauro left the full court in no doubt that it was not only within the Commission's wide veterinary powers to order a ban but that it has a clear duty to protect human health.