German `no' to British beef

GERMANY IS on a collision course with the European Commission after refusing to lift its ban on the sale of British beef.

The Health Minister, Andrea Fischer said the government believed it was too early to lift the ban and further discussions would be held with representatives of the EC.

Germany wants guarantees that all British beef exports are properly tested, to ensure that none is affected by BSE. Ms Fischer, a member of the Green party, pointed out that BSE has not been fully eradicated from the British herd, with 1,500 new cases detected in the first half of this year alone.

There had been signs even before yesterday's announcement that Germany was looking for ways to stall on the decision to lift the ban. It earlier claimed a need to have the new regime approved by Parliament's upper chamber, the Bundesrat, which does not meet until September 24.

It now seems the delay will be much longer, with discussions in Brussels due to begin in October. However, if the government continues to resist the EU's edict, it is liable to face court proceedings.

"If the conditions are fulfilled [by the British], the Germans would have to allow the meat in," said a spokeswoman for the EC, Martine Reicherts.

"If they don't, we will study starting an infringement procedure." The latter is the first step in a process which can result in an EU member state tried in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

It is assumed that the German government will not let matters go that far. Although regional governments, especially those where the Greens hold the environment portfolio, continue to resist British beef, the final decision rests with the federal government.