Meaty myths and prejudices

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Indy Politics

British beef is safe. Or is it?

British beef is safe. Or is it?

The Florence Agreement of June 1996 set out conditions the UK had to meet before the beef export ban was lifted. EC inspectors were able to verify all these had been met, and the European ban on British beef was lifted in August of this year.

However, the French argue that the number of cases of BSE in British herds is not falling fast enough: there will be more than 2,000 new cases of the disease this year, though British scientists say that the only beef allowed for export is from animals too young to have eaten contaminated feed.

The French feed their cows on human sewage, while our farmers feed their animals good food. Do they?

The European Commission report on the French sewage scandal focused on five plants using waste from their own lavatories and showers mixed in with other products being rendered down. The French say this has now been stopped. While it remains legal to put poultry waste in feed, giving animals food containing sewage derivatives has been illegal across the EU since 1991. The NFU says there have been no cases in this country of farmers feeding their cattle on foodstuffs contaminated with sewage.

Unlike the French, the British don't break EU rules. Do we?

The British are not whiter-than-white; a spokesman for the Institute of Trading Standards, which deals with various issues including animal welfare and food manufacture, says that there are "a lot of minor incidents" and that the Institute has dealt with considerable numbers of animal welfare problems due to the crisis in the farming industry.

British consumers are boycotting French food. Are they?

Those consumers who shop at Tesco, Budgen, Somerfield and Asda aren't being given the choice; these chains have withdrawn a variety of French goods. However, at Sainsbury's, which has not implemented any boycotts, a spokesman said: "There has been no downturn in sales of French produce." French supermarkets in Calais, asked if there are currently fewer English shoppers, answered with a resounding "Non".

The British consumer trusts the British farmer. Does he?

"People have been examining farming practice closely over the past few days," says Stuart Thomson of the NFU. "They have been pleased by what has been highlighted in this country and horrified by what has been revealed abroad." However, beef farmers are still struggling to rebuild the £600m foreign market that disappeared with the Europe-wide ban on beef, and the continued beef-on-the-bone ban does not boost consumer confidence.

British beef is best. Is it?

A subjective point of view, perhaps, but one which many restaurateurs and chefs support. "We are proud that 100 per cent of the steak we serve is Scotch, because it's the best beef in the world," says Neville Abraham, chairman of the Chez Gérard restaurant group. Other top chefs to speak up for British beef include Gordon Ramsay and Antony Worral Thompson

French police stood by and watched last week as French lorry drivers intimidated British ones. Did they?

On Tuesday and Wednesday, French truckers set up barricades at Calais and allegedly searched British lorries for agricultural produce. Eye-witness reports claimed that gendarmes took no action. No official police report on the incident has been released. The Road Haulage Association says: "This is another dispute we are not involved in but our drivers are losing money on. It's another nail in our coffin." The RHA has written to the EU Transport Committee to demand further information about the incidents.

The French are terribly upset by all this fracas. Are they?

A handful of militant farmers excepted, the French are supremely indifferent. "There has been scarcely an echo in the French press or on the radio all week," says Dr Jim Shields, senior lecturer in French at Warwick University.