German ministers cling to threat of beef import ban

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THE THREAT that Germany might impose a unilateral ban on the importation of beef from the United Kingdom continued to dog Anglo- German relations yesterday, despite efforts by European Union ministers to defuse the row sparked off by fears of 'mad cow' disease.

The German health minister, Horst Seehofer, admitted that Brussels had made some progress but said 'the possibility of a unilateral ban remains until the matter has been properly settled'.

The EU commissioner for agriculture, Rene Steichen, outlined a five-point package which he hoped would allay German fears, including banning the use of meat and bone meal in cattle feed and demanding higher meat-processing temperatures to kill bacteria.

The German agriculture minister, Jochen Borchert, said he was happy with the package but suggested that it still did not properly address their complaints.

Bonn is pressing to ensure that the spread of the disease, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is controlled through a Europe-wide ban on the export of British beef from animals more than three years old and from farms affected by BSE in the last four years.

The UK says that it has applied all EU rules and there is no scientific evidence to justify a ban.

Mr Steichen has instructed the commission's in-house veterinary committee to study the application of hygiene rules to the transport of meat and animals. Meanwhile, Mr Seehofer will be in Brussels tomorrow for a meeting of EU health ministers and wants BSE on the agenda.

Gillian Shephard, the Agriculture Minister, said the UK would resist any further measures, noting that the use of animal protein in cattle feed has already been banned. She complained that the Germans had no new scientific evidence to back their demands and suggested that their health and agriculture ministries were at odds as to the importance of the issue.

'It is, I think, revealing that my German colleague has described the problem as a political hot potato,' she said.