Britain has 24 times more CJD than in France

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News of Britain's first big beef export order to Europe was marred yesterday by French predictions that the UK faces a rash of new cases of CJD, the human equivalent of mad cow disease.

News of Britain's first big beef export order to Europe was marred yesterday by French predictions that the UK faces a rash of new cases of CJD, the human equivalent of mad cow disease.

Members of a French parliamentary delegation conducting an inquiry into food safety supported Paris's continuing beef ban, criticised British safety standards and pointed out that 48 cases of CJD have been detected in the UK as against two in France.

On a visit to Brussels, André Angot, a vice president of the committee, criticised arrangements in the UK, arguing that traceability, slaughtering and testing methods are unreliable. Pointing out the disparity in the number of cases of CJD in the UK and France, he said: "There are probably many people who are contaminated in Britain and who will show symptoms in seven or eight years or, at least, over the next 15 years."

Félix Leyzour, the president of the committee, which was set up by the French national assembly, backed the Paris government's decision to block UK beef imports. "I think the government has taken a good political decision," he said.

Indications of the depth of French resistance to a lifting of the ban contrasted with the British Government's coup in achieving a big beef export order to the Netherlands.

The contract with Ven International, worth £2.5m a year, is to supply hotels and restaurants with premium beef. Officials estimate that the order will be for around 350tons, equivalent to 700,000 steaks. The meat will be processed by St Merryn Meat near Truro, Cornwall, one of two companies licensed under the Date-Based Export Scheme backed by the EU.

Despite yesterday's success, exporters are sanguine about the prospects of recovering their former markets, particularly since France - once the biggest importer of UK beef - remains a closed market.

According to the European Commission, Britain exported 105,803tons of beef to France in 1985. Trade for that year to the EU was the equivalent of 202,500tons or £457m and a further 71,500tons worth £63m went to the rest of the world. When the mad cow crisis broke in 1996 exports plummeted.

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