Germany lifts ban on British beef

The German parliament lifted a four-year-old ban on British beef imports today, leaving France as the only European Union country with a ban still in effect.

The upper house, which represents Germany's states, narrowly approved a government proposal to end the ban, which was tied to fears about "mad cow" disease in Britain.

In Brussels, the EU health and consumer protection commissioner, David Byrne, reacted positively to the German vote.

"The German states have listened to our arguments and understood them. British beef is only exported under strict safety conditions which have been evaluated by scientists who concluded that it was as safe as any other beef in Europe," Byrne said.

Coupled with strict labeling rules for British beef, the lifting of the ban formally takes effect after a government order expected to be published by the end of March.

The upper house cast 39 votes in favor of the proposal, just four more than the required majority out of a total 69 votes. The ballot removed the last legislative obstacle to ending the ban.

The European Union Commission, the EU executive branch, has begun legal action against Germany and France as a result of their bans on British beef imports.

The bans date to a March 1996 EU decision to prohibit the export of all British beef. That decision came after the Britain announced a possible link between mad cow disease - or bovine spongiform encephalopathy - in British beef and a fatal brain ailment in humans.

Britain slaughtered millions of potentially BSE-infected cattle, introduced curbs on the use of potentially BSE-infected animal feed and created a comprehensive cattle tracing system.

The commission last year allowed British beef exports to resume on Aug. 1, 1999, provided the meat was from cattle born after Aug. 1, 1996. But France and Germany balked.

Though Germany is a small market for British beef, exporters had expressed worries that a continued ban there would undermine confidence in the product elsewhere.

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