Legality of ban on British beef challenged in court

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The world-wide ban imposed by Brussels on Britain's beef exports was attacked in court yesterday as "a triumph of expediency over legality". The European Commission was accused of abusing its powers by imposing an illogical and indiscriminate blanket trade blockade which had destroyed jobs and businesses.

The ban was imposed 14 months ago in the wake of the latest expert advice on a possible link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) - mad cow disease - and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans. Stuart Higgins QC, representing the National Farmers' Union, urged the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg to "scrutinise the ban calmly and logically and strike it down as unlawful". The NFU, in court with the Government and backed by nine companies involved in the rearing, export and transport of beef and livestock, says Brussels exceeded its competence because it was not tackling a "serious hazard" to human health but responding to consumer fears, and that it acted on economic grounds, beyond the scope of its authority. The European Court's advocate-general will deliver an interim opinion later this year, followed by the final judgment of the court.

Fraudsters have been smuggling British beef abroad in defiance of the European Union's worldwide export ban, the European Commission has claimed. The commission yesterday condemned Britain's policing of the ban as "obviously inadequate" and said it was considering whether to take the country to court.