French U-turn on BSE puts charcuterie under threat

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The Independent Online

The French government had to make an embarrassing U-turn yesterday and outlaw the use of cow intestines to manufacture certain kinds of salami and other traditional sausages.

The French government had to make an embarrassing U-turn yesterday and outlaw the use of cow intestines to manufacture certain kinds of salami and other traditional sausages.

The decision - after 12 months of hesitation and half-measures - draws attention to double standards employed by Paris to deal with the human health risks from bovine spon-giform encephalopathy (BSE).

A year ago this week the government defied the European Union and imposed a unilateral ban on British beef imports. Paris said it had to pursue a policy of "extreme precaution" and implement the advice of the independent French food safety agency, which had recommended a continuing embargo.

The same agency, AFSSA, decided more than 12 months ago that the intestines of cows slaughtered in France should be removed from the food chain. Experts consulted by the agency said the guts carried a high risk of transmission of BSE in its human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and that they should no longer be used to encase certain kinds of traditional sausages.

The advice was at first ignored by Paris and then implemented in minimal form. The government banned the use of a small part of the intestines, which was, in practice, little used in any case.

The charcuterie, or cold- meats industry, had lobbied vociferously against a complete ban. Most French charcuterie is made from pork. But certain large types, such as andouilles, andouillettes, cervelas, mortadelles and saucissses de Morteau rely on cow guts.

Outlawing their use would destroy recipes and traditions that go back centuries, the industry complained. Artificial plastic sausage cases are available but they alter the taste of the finished product.

The French government, despite its previous insistence on the "precaution principle", allowed the use of cow intestines to continue.

Yesterday, however, the AFSSA issued an even tougher report calling for an immediate ban on the use of beef guts in any part of the human or animal food chain. The Agriculture Minister, Jean Glavany, announced that he would accept the advice despite its "considerable economic and social consequences".

Several other recommendations by the AFSSA, including a ban on the use of beef fat and the spinal columns of cows, have still to be introduced by the government.

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