Germany drops its ban on British beef

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The Independent Online
GERMANY agreed yesterday to drop its threat to ban British beef exports, after the European Commission brokered a compromise between the two countries. Germany had claimed the cattle brain disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) posed a threat to humans.

The decision accepted by EU farm ministers in Brussels yesterday appeared to be a diplomatic defeat for Germany, which has gained only marginal restrictions on British beef imports. However, the German government campaign has already achieved a reduction in British beef exports. The British Meat and Livestock Commission estimated last month that German publicity about 'mad cow disease' had caused damage of more than pounds 35m in lost exports and lower prices.

Under the agreement, live cattle exports will be unaffected and boned beef exports will be virtually unaltered. The only increased restriction is on beef containing bones, which can be exported only from herds which have been free of BSE for six years. At present herds need to have been BSE- free for only two years.

Earlier this month Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, backed a bill authorising the federal government to order a six-month ban on beef from Britain. Germany says scientists cannot prove there is no risk of humans catching 'mad cow disease' by eating BSE-infected beef.

Gillian Shephard, the Minister of Agriculture, said last night: 'Community scientific experts agree that British beef is safe and that we have a firm grip on the BSE epidemic. This again demonstrates (their) confidence in the way we do things in Britain.'

The German farm minister, Jochen Borchert, denied the EU decision was a defeat for Germany. 'No, it's a unanimous decision and in that way it can't be a defeat,' he said. A German official added: 'Germany is happy with the agreement.'

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, told EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels for the first time under the German presidency that Britain wanted to end its recent diplomatic isolation in Europe. He said: 'The EU cannot be simply a free trade area or even a single market. We need to develop a system for constructing our foreign policy better internally, and projecting it better externally.'