Brussels to sue France for not lifting UK beef ban

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The Independent Online

France is to be taken back to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission over its refusal to lift a ban on British beef.

Paris has formally declared that the beef embargo will remain for at least three months, despite being ordered to re-admit British beef by the court. The new case, which will last up to 18 months, will seek to enforce that judgment and impose fines if Paris refuses to obey.

The move comes as a new scientific study claims that rogue proteins, or prions, linked to those that cause mad cow disease, can form in muscle, not just in tissue hitherto seen as risky. The findings, from a team of US scientists led by Stanley Prusiner, who won the Nobel prize for his work on prions, have provoked much interest in France. Experiments on mice show high levels of prions can collect in muscles, as well as in the central nervous system and lymphatic tissues, which are seen as the main risk areas.

Beate Gminder, a spokeswoman for the European Commissioner for health and consumer affairs, said the EU scientific committee would evaluate the work but added: "The structure and the metabolism of mice cannot be compared with that of bovine animals or that of human beings, but the Commission does take on board Prusiner's advice to carry out studies on this."

The new findings are unlikely to alter the Commission's decision on its legal case. The power to fine countries for breaching EU law has only been used once, when Greece was fined €20,000 a day for breaking an environmental law.

Officials in Brussels are confident that Paris will lift the embargo once the French presidential elections are over.