French move to end beef war - but a German battle looms

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The Independent Online
THE ANGLO-FRENCH beef war was heading towards resolution yesterday as the two governments edged to a compromise which would allow British beef back onto the French market.

But a new beef row could be looming with Germany, seven of whose 16 federal states indicated yesterday they want to keep an import ban on British beef despite Friday's unanimous ruling by EU scientists that it is safe.

Prime ministers of the dissenting states were quoted in German Sunday newspapers as saying that they would not lift their import bans as long as there were new cases of mad cow disease reported in Britain.

"As long as new illnesses arise through BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in Britain it would be irresponsible to lift the import ban," Bavarian health minister Josef Miller said.

The British and French agriculture ministers have agreed to talks in Brussels with the European Commission tomorrow and sources in London hinted at some face-saving concessions to bring a speedy end to the cross- channel dispute.

The EU's food safety commissioner David Byrne said France had made a "positive" preliminary response to the EU scientists' ruling.

An official reply would be presented by the French on Thursday, Mr Byrne said.

Most signs indicate that both the Paris government and French farmers would like to see the dispute wrapped up as quickly as possible.

In a television interview yesterday the Minister for Agriculture Nick Brown left open the possibility of British concessions but said he was unsure what could be offered.

"I am willing to consider anything that is reasonable. However... it's actually quite difficult to see what (those concessions) might be. I want to approach this with an open mind and I want to behave fairly, and I want to get the issue settled quickly," he said.

The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, said at the weekend that the French government had to decide between the "principle of precaution" in food safety on the one hand and respect for EU rules on the other. He said that Paris had also to consider whether it wished to continue "a conflict, which we never sought, with a country which we consider a friend".