Smuggled meat sets back hopes for easing beef ban

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Hopes for an easing of the European Union's ban on British beef suffered a fresh setback yesterday after the European Commission said it had evidence that smuggled beef from the United Kingdom was getting into Germany. Brussels has asked the German authorities to order the closure of at least one meat plant and to step up controls on a handful of others, all in the Hamburg region. Bonn, which holds the key to any decision to relax the ban, immediately ruled out any support for special concessions even to Northern Ireland. Jack Cunningham, the Minister for Agriculture, admitted that Bonn's reaction in yesterday's meeting was tougher than anticipated.

The latest fraud concerns an unspecified tonnage of suspected British beef seized from plants in Germany which were raided by inspectors last week. There are growing fears in Brussels that a highly organised international fraud ring is smuggle British beef in the EU, and also to Russia.