French win new scientific inquiry into safety of British beef

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BRITAIN UNEXPECTEDLY agreed last night to a wide ranging new scientific study on the safety of its beef exports in what will be seen as a big concession to France.

The move, inevitably means further delay for the return of British beef to the French market. The plan was agreed after three hours of talks in Brussels last night.

Experts from Britain France and the European Commission will start work on Friday discussing the central elements of the British beef export scheme. The move was announced in a joint statemnt with the French minister for agriculture Jean Glavany and health minister Dominique Gillot. Mr Glavany however declined to give any committment that the French beef ban, ruled illegal by the European Commission, will be lifted.

The announcement will come as a surprise to British farmers following last weeks clean bill of health from EU scientists for British beef. Now the scientists will begin to study five areas of concern raised by France.

Last night the agriculture minister Nick Brown stressed that the UK has not made any concessions as yet adding "these are technical issues. It seems to me fair to explore them. We are talking about days and not a lengthy process".

The statement said: "We have drawn up a method to emerge from crisis as quickly as possible by identifying five points - traceability, testing, derived products, controls and labelling - worthy of being looked at by our experts over the next few days We undertake this approach in a constructive spirit and a common will to assure the public health of our citizens".

This was the first face-to-face meeting between the British and French agriculture ministers since the beginning of the bitter dispute between the two countries. While a negotiated settlement was expected, few predicted the extent of the concessions agreed to by Mr Brown.

The meeting came after a series of discussions with the European commissioner for health and consumer safety, David Byrne, who shuttled between the two ministers.