France submits draft agreement on British beef to food safety agency

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France's agriculture ministry confirmed Wednesday that it has submitted a report on British beef to the national food safety agency, and expects a recommendation "within ten days" on whether to lift an import ban which has strained ties with Britain.

France's agriculture ministry confirmed Wednesday that it has submitted a report on British beef to the national food safety agency, and expects a recommendation "within ten days" on whether to lift an import ban which has strained ties with Britain.

The report, outlining British assurances about the quality of the country's beef exports, was submitted late Tuesday night to the agency, a ministry spokeswoman said. It summarizes clarifications on five points - traceability, controls, tests, derived products and labeling - requested by France. The new proposals for testing are thought to be the only real concession to the French.

The European Union imposed a worldwide ban on British beef in 1996 when bovine spongiform encephalapathy, commonly known as "mad cow disease," was linked to a similar fatal, brain-wasting disease in humans.

In August, the EU lifted the ban, saying British beef was safe for consumption. But the French imposed their own ban Oct. 1, saying there was new evidence that the meat was unsafe, prompting legal action from the European Commission, the EU's executive arm.

If France's food agency approves the draft agreement, the country's Socialist-led government is expected to lift the ban swiftly.

But Cabinet spokesman Daniel Vaillant told reporters Wednesday that a careful study of the agreement had to be carried out. "Our desire is to reach an accord, but we mustn't put the cart before the horses," he said.

The European Commission said Tuesday that Britain and France have reached an "understanding" to end their dispute over beef exports.

British Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said in a statement that: "The French government asked for, and was given, more information and assurances about measures being carried out to ensure the safety of British beef."

France and Britain have expressed support for recently developed tests which have the potential to diagnose "mad cow" in animals prior to the appearance of clinical signs of the disease.

All EU nations except France and Germany have already agreed to import British beef. Several non-EU nations, including the United States, maintain their bans.

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