Tories call for French beef ban over BSE

Tories demanded an immediate ban on imports of French beef yesterday as they seized on reports that BSE cases in the country are increasing.

Tim Yeo, the shadow Agriculture Minister, said the French government had admitted that the BSE problem was much worse than previously expected.

"At last the truth about BSE is being dragged out of a reluctant French government," he said. "This is not the first, nor will it be the last report to admit that BSE is much more widespread in France.

"Britain should now ask the European Commission to review France's BSE risk status and impose a precautionary ban on the import of French cattle products, until their safety can be guaranteed."

However, a spokesman for the Ministry for Agriculture stressed that Britain could not "act unilaterally" to ban imports of French beef.

"We have the Commission taking action against the French (for refusing to lift their domestic ban on British beef). They have currently gone to the European Court of Justice."

France had 31 cases of BSE last year and 14 so far this year, according to reports. The French food standards agency admitted the planned elimination of BSE from French herds by 2001 was unlikely to happen.