French pate and sausage hit by BSE rule

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French gastronomes are up in arms over tougher new rules to protect consumers from bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) which could outlaw certain kinds of traditional sausages and pate.

French gastronomes are up in arms over tougher new rules to protect consumers from bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE) which could outlaw certain kinds of traditional sausages and pate.

The independent French food safety agency Afssa, which inspired the unilateral French ban on British beef imports, has recommended that the intestines of cows slaughtered in France should be destroyed and removed from the food chain.

Small and large cow intestines are used to encase some kinds of charcuterie, or cooked sausages. They are also a traditional ingredient of pâté or potted meat called rillettes.

The food safety agency has told the government that cow intestines carry a high risk of transmission of BSE in its human variant, Creutzfeldt Jakob's disease (CJD). It has recommended that the intestines removed from all French cows that were born before March 1998 - 51,000 tons of meat a year - should be destroyed.

The recommendation, made three months ago but not yet implemented by the government, has caused indignation in the charcuterie industry.

Most French cooked meat products are made from pork. But certain types - andouilles, andouillettes, saucisse de Morteau and the jésus de Lyon, as well as rillettes - rely on cow guts. Outlawing their use would destroy recipes and traditions which go back for centuries, the industry complains. Artificial, plastic, sausage cases are available but they alter the taste of the finished product.

An agriculture ministry official threw oil on the flames by telling the press: "France can live without rillettes and andouilles [sausages]." An indignant spokesman for the charcuterie industry said that this remark "demonstrated the ignorance of the technocrats who make such decisions".

The outcome of the row will be watched very closely by British officials. When the food safety agencyrecommended a continuing ban on British beef imports, in defiance of the European Union law, the French government said that it had no choice but to accept the decision - the principle of extreme precaution in protecting human health must prevail.

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