French meat 'poses' risk to health', says top adviser

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A senior Government scientific adviser today acknowledged that French meat could impose a threat to human health.

A senior Government scientific adviser today acknowledged that French meat could impose a threat to human health.

Professor Philip Thomas, the chairman of the Government's advisory committee on animal feeding stuffs, said that there was "undoubtedly" a risk that French meat could be contaminated.

He became the latest scientist to voice his concern following an EU report which disclosed French farmers had been feeding their livestock with foodstuffs produced from animal and human sewage.

Prof Thomas said that the French actions clearly breached EU law and could be a health risk.

"It is potentially possible that there could be contamination into the food chain through these sources. The risk may be relatively small but the risk is undoubtedly there," he told BBC Radio 4's the World at One programme.

"You don't have to have a scientific interpretation to know that it is not good risk management to be putting materials contaminated by human faeces back into the food chain."

He said that under French law, farmers were still allowed to feed pigs and poultry with feed produced from animal sewage, although it had been banned from cattle and sheep.

However the EU report had also highlighted the danger that the meat and bonemeal material being produced at the French processing plants could have been contaminated with human waste, he said.

His warning is likely to heighten calls for the Government to impose a unilateral ban on French meat.

However Agriculture Minister Nick Brown - who was due to discuss the growing crisis with European Food Commissioner David Byrne later today - insisted there were no scientific grounds for a ban at present.

"I'm going to abide by the scientific advice that comes to Government collectively, and that advice clearly says that there is no case for imposing a ban on French livestock products on health or hygiene grounds," he told the programme.

He warned that imposing a unilateral British ban would be illegal under EU law and would undermine the Governments efforts to get the French ban on British beef lifted.

"We are legally in the right on the export of our own beef. We are legally in the right on the question of the sewage sludge," he told ITN.

"It would be very foolish for us as a country to step outside the law and embark upon the disasters we got in the John Major years."

Mr Brown insisted that he was not creating problems for the Government by boycotting French goods himself, while Government policy was to resist calls for a ban on French imports.

"It's a personal decision, I'm not saying that everybody should do the same thing," said Mr Brown. He said that it was "absolutely ridiculous" to suggest that his actions were undermining Government policy.

"It's a free country, we are all free to do what we like with our post-tax disposable income and I'm not going to spend mine purchasing French goods, all the while they are completely illegally refusing to allow us to offer our beef for sale through the date-based export scheme ...

"They (the French) are unilaterally saying 'no - they are in the wrong,"' Mr Brown told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

Liberal Democrat agriculture spokesman Colin Breed defended Mr Brown's right not to purchase French goods - and said he was taking a similar stance.

"I think it's perfectly sensible and right that ministers should have their personal opinions and their personal preferences being preserved," said Mr Breed.

"I agree with him and I have certainly also decided not to purchase French products, until we get a situation where clearly the French are lifting their illegal beef ban and our farmers, whose beef now is quite clearly far superior to that being produced in France, is able to be exported to them."

Later Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo again rounded on Mr Brown, taking issue with his suggestion that there was no scientific evidence to warrant a ban on French imports.

"It is astonishing that Nick Brown has claimed that there are no scientific or health grounds for banning French meat imports. Does he really expect the British consumer to believe that there is no potential health risk out of eating meat reared on sewage?" said Mr Yeo.

"This is further proof that Nick Brown is under direct orders from Tony Blair not to offend his pals in the French government, or do anything to undermine Mr Blair's posturing on the European scene.

"It is time Nick Brown stood up for the British farmer and stood up to Tony Blair."

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