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France lifts British beef ban

France has lifted its ban on imports of British beef, which has soured relations between the two countries for the past three years.

Accepting the recommendation of the French food safety agency two weeks ago, the French government said yesterday it was abandoning its solitary stand against a European Union decision in 1999 to lift a BSE-related embargo.

In July, the European Commission asked the European Court of Justice to fine France almost €160,000 (£100,000) a day for failing to comply with its ruling against the ban. The case is now likely to be dropped.

Exports should be able to resume in the next few days, but French consumer resistance remains high. However, the British meat industry hopes it may soon regain its once lucrative trade in top-quality beef, mostly from Scotland, to specialist restaurants.

The French government said it would tighten its rules so that British meat sold in school and works canteens would have to be advertised as such.

The lifting of the ban should help the reputation of British beef in other countries. It was destroyed by the BSE crisis in the early 1990s and by the 1996 finding that the illness could be passed on to humans as variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The French food safety agency ruled that, with only 800 cases this year compared with 32,000 at the height of the epidemic, BSE in Britain was under control.