France stalls on lifting of British beef ban

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The Independent Online
FRANCE HAS delayed lifting the ban on British beef ordered by the European Union for at least another month.

The French government has referred the lifting of the three-year-old embargo, which had been due to take effect on 1 August, to its food safety agency.

Any further delay - or a French decision to continue the ban unilaterally - could bring legal action by the European Commission or the British government.

The German government has also declined to admit British beef - banned in 1996 at the height of the BSE scare - until a decision is taken by the German parliament.

Remi Fourrier, the French director of the UK meat export agency, British Meat, said he was confident the French would back the EU decision to lift the ban. "We understand that implementing the decision will follow different timetables in different countries, according to their national regulations," he said.

Public resistance to British beef remains strong in France. French officials blamed the delay on the "opaque" scientific reasoning of the commission, which ordered the ban lifted despite fears in France and elsewhere that some British beef might still be infected with BSE. The French intend to ask for copies of the inspection reports of British farms and abattoirs which led Brussels to lift the ban.

The commission criticised the French decision, while admitting that Paris is entitled to a period of time to remove the ban. A spokesman for the commission said: "We understand that national legislation banning British beef is in place in several member states. We understand that time will be needed to undo legislation but this should be a matter of weeks not months".

Brussels is powerless to intervene in the short-term because it would take months to launch infringement proceedings.