German states ban UK beef

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Britain has demanded the European Commission take legal action against Germany after three of its states yesterday banned the sale of British beef, writes Nicholas Schoon.

Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate acted because of fears that bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or ''mad-cow disease'', could spread to humans.

A Commission spokesman: ''First impressions are that this is clearly illegal.'' Anticipating the ban, Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, wrote to the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, saying it would be a breach of an EU regulation outlawing such a ban.

The row is causing conflict between German states and the federal government. The states say Britain failed to eradicate BSE and there is no proof it cannot be transmitted to humans.

Ministry of Agriculture figures show 200 tonnes go to Germany a year out of total carcass exports to Europe of 200,000 tonnes, most of which go to France, Italy and Belgium.

Yesterday's bans followed the expiry of a federal law which implemented an EU ruling that British cattle born after 1992 could be imported because they were BSE-free. But the states withheld approval for an extension of the nationwide law, demanding unanimously that the Health Minister impose a total ban on imports of British beef.