British hopes on beef dashed as scientists fail to agree

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Scientists were deadlocked last night over their crucial report into British beef, dashing government hopes of a clear verdict in Britain's favour when the food safety committee rules later today.

Scientists were deadlocked last night over their crucial report into British beef, dashing government hopes of a clear verdict in Britain's favour when the food safety committee rules later today.

As the European Union scientists adjourned their meeting there were signs that the French, who claim they have new evidence to justify maintaining a ban on British beef, had failed to convince all the scientists. But the lack of consensus could mean the food safety committee may also fail to vindicate Britain.

British hopes were boosted when one member of the committee, Professor Fritz Kemper of the University of Münster, told journalists he thought France had presented "no real new evidence" to justify its defiance of EU law, which permits British beef exports. But officials also said there was "nowhere near a consensus" on the French claims that British beef may still pose a threat to human health.

If the scientists remain divided today, the search in Brussels will be on for a political compromise, allowing France to back down without losing political face. The French agriculture minister, Jean Glavany, yesterday extended an olive branch in the shape of tighter restrictions on British exports and these ideas were taken up in Brussels. One concession, which might satisfy the French, is that beef exported from Britain should be clearly labelled as British. The European Commission said that while this presented legal and trade complications there were "mechanisms that could be launched to deal with this issue". Other demands that the French would like met include more testing of meat using the latest technology.

Officially British ministers again ruled out giving any ground to the French, saying that no changes were necessary or envisaged at present. Tony Blair, said: "We have the law and science on our side and the quality of British beef."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We are not quite clear what it is that the French mean by concessions and compromises. There can't be any."

But Downing Street left open the possibility of movement if Britain is asked by the European Commission to take further safety steps on the recommendations of the scientific steering committee. Talk of taking the French to court was also noticeably more muted than in previous days, with Downing Street stressing that a court case might not be the best way to get the ban lifted.

In the Commons, Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, warned there would be a backlash if the Government conceded further compromise with more controls on British cattle and slaughter houses.

He said: "The Conservative Party believes that demands for more controls are outrageous and unjustified. Under no circumstances should the British Government accept any further intrusion into the way British beef is produced."

Comments