EU backs Britain in row with Germany over BSE: Ban on beef exports from the UK is rejected by meeting of ministers

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Britain yesterday won the backing of the European Union in its fight against Germany over BSE. Germany was left isolated but continuing to threaten measures against British beef, British officials said.

'The European Commission and 11 member states all took the view that there was no evidence of a need for new measures,' Brian Mawhinney, the health minister, said.

Germany had called for a ban on British beef and veal exports to all EU states and wanted to extend an existing ban on live cattle exports. Other states were wary, partly because they feared the impact on their own cattle industries and partly because they were not convinced by Germany's arguments, officials said.

The EU came out against Germany at a meeting of health ministers in Brussels. Germany has linked the cattle disease Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy to the human Creutzfeld-Jakob disease and threatened a unilateral ban on imports of British beef. But this would breach EU law, Britain claims, as there is no evidence to support the link.

The EU will continue to monitor the situation and could in the future look at other action, but this was not needed now, Dimitrios Kremastinos, the Greek health minister, who chaired yesterday's meeting, said.

Germany, though boxed into a corner, continued to threaten action. But officials said they hoped this could be resolved through measures short of a ban. Bonn might adopt a ruminant protein ban, which rules out feeding cows, or sheep with meat, they said, as Britain had done up to 1988.

The Commission has argued that present measures are sufficient to ensure human safety and that there is no evidence of the human link. Yesterday Britain sought to reposition the row as being between Germany and the Commission, rather than Britain, since a breach EU law would be the responsibility of the European Commission.

'They can look at measures taken by other countries,' Mr Mawhinney said. 'But what they cannot do is to take any measures that are outside European law.'

In a paper on the subject, the Commission commends Britain's provision of information and its measures to prevent the spread of the disease. It examines the sensitive issue of maternal transmission of the disease and finds no conclusive evidence; and it concludes that there is no reason to believe the disease can be transmitted to humans, though it advocates stringent measures.

The German minister also asked for new reports on the issue, but Britain rejected this, too, saying it was unneccessary and could be damaging. 'That might imply there was a problem,' Mr Mawhinney said. 'There is not a risk to human health.'

(Photograph omitted)