THE BSE RISK: Germany leads way with demand for total ban

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Germany was last night considering a total ban on British beef imports following the Commons statement, and pressure was building for the European Commission to put Britain in quarantine.

"We would like to err on the safe side," Barbel Hohn, the environment minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, said. "That is why I think that the best solution is to ban British beef from the European Union."

Ms Hohn led the way last month in imposing a unilateral ban on British beef imports. Other German states followed suit, despite warnings from Brussels that their actions were against European law. In the wake of the admission in London that there might be a connection between BSE and CJD, she feels vindicated.

"We said here in North-Rhine Westphalia that the health of the population must be safeguarded. There was always a question mark over a connection between BSE and people's health. The latest news tells us we made the right decision."

Since last month, the state has kept butchers' shelves clear of British beef, but some BSE-infected products could still get in. "At the moment we can't control products that are processed in, say, France, but originate in Britain," Ms Hohn said.

The federal health ministry in Bonn was last night still digesting the implications of the latest development, but is known to be sympathetic to a cause which some German states have turned into a crusade. The German authorities tried to ban British beef after the first scare, only to run foul of the EU's competition rules.

Now, the European Commission is bracing itself for new pressure. However, agriculture officials in Brussels were last night cautious about whether the new evidence was sufficiently strong to justify a ban. Veterinary experts will meet tomorrow.

The commission appears to have been angered by the failure of the UK authorities to alert it before the announcement so that full consultations about possible action could have taken place. "We were somewhat surprised to learn about the pending announcement in a newspaper," said the spokesman.