EU scientists struggle for consensus on beef

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Divisions among European Union scientists over France's case for keeping a ban on British beef would make legal action against Paris "difficult", Brussels said yesterday as the bitter Anglo-French clash moved towards its climax.

Divisions among European Union scientists over France's case for keeping a ban on British beef would make legal action against Paris "difficult", Brussels said yesterday as the bitter Anglo-French clash moved towards its climax.

Ahead of tomorrow's crunch meeting of the scientific steering committee, which has been asked to rule on the validity of the French case, the Commission said it wanted a consensus view from the 19-strong team.

That prospect looked unlikely after it emerged that an ad hoc committee of EU scientists, which met on Monday, had failed to reach a unanimous view, despite majority support for the British position.

Last night the French agriculture minister Jean Glavany told journalists in Luxembourg that compromise might be possible, perhaps including new measures to reassure French public opinion.

Accounts of Monday's meetings varied, but the French and Austrian representatives supported the French case as, according to one source, did the Belgian scientist. French sources argued that a majority had concluded that Paris had produced new evidence and that a "large minority" favoured changing the decision to lift the beef embargo, although that was disputed by the UK.

Tomorrow's committee is due to be chaired by a Frenchman, Gérard Pascal, although he may be persuaded to offer the chair to a colleague. Dr Pascal annoyed British officials by giving an interview to the French daily newspaper Libération earlier this month in which he said there are now two "new elements" in knowledge about BSE, and did not exclude the possibility of a re-imposition of the export embargo.

Yesterday the European Commission said that it expects the committee to reach a consensus, although it remains possible that it will split, agreeing majority and minority positions. Asked whether legal action against Paris would be possible without consensus, Thea Emmerling, spokeswoman for the health commissioner, David Byrne, said: "We act on a scientific basis. If it is clear it is easy to act; if it is not it is more difficult to act."

Other Commission sources said that Brussels would be reluctant to embark on a legal course without clear-cut advice, and suggested that attempts may be made over the weekend to broker a compromise.

Tomorrow's committee is able to make whatever recommendations it wants and could try to suggest new measures to reassure French public opinion. Britain could be pressed to slaughter the entire herd if a BSE case is confirmed, as is the standard practice in France.

Comments