Exactly what's what in the quarrel about British cattle

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The Independent Online
Q. Why will the French not take our beef?

A. Because they say their food scientists are not happy with the measures Britain has taken to prevent meat from animals with BSE, or mad cow disease, from entering the food chain.

Q. What does Britain say to that?

A. That the measures put in place are very extensive and comply in every way with the terms of the Florence agreement negotiated by John Major in 1996, to allow British beef to be eventually re-exported once again. They include a "cattle passport scheme", a date-based export scheme, a mass slaughter of older cows and very much tighter restrictions on slaughterhouses and meat processors.

Q. What is the view of the European Commission, the EU's civil service in Brussels?

A. EC scientists feel the actions Britain has taken are adequate and that the export of British beef can recommence throughout Europe.

Q. Why is France holding out?

A. French Government scientists seem to want even tighter controls over British meat. Among other demands they want labelling, to which Britain has no objection, but they also want "traceability" of the meat increased. In compliance with EU requirements Britain hasset up a complex "cattle passport" scheme allowing the background of every single beef cow born in Britain to be traced from cradle to grave, to prove it did not come from a BSE-affected herd. France is apparently seeking "traceability" not just of animals, but of individual cuts of British meat in a French butcher's shop window, which British officials feel would be virtually impossible.

Q. Are France's objections purely scientific?

A. There is some suggestion that French ministers feel they might be held personally responsible under French law if any French person contracted the human version of BSE, new-variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, from eating infected British beef.

Q. What can Tony Blair do ?

A. Not a lot personally, other than let the European Union begin formal legal proceedings against France if the French continue with their refusal.

Q. Why was the export of British beef banned by the European Union in the first place?

A. Because the British Government announced in March 1996 that there was a possible link between consumption of meat from animals suffering from BSE, or mad cow disease.