Leading article: A gelatin victory, but we're still stuck

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Britain's jellymakers have cause to feel a little more jolly. The EU commissioners decided yesterday to recommend lifting the ban on certain British beef by-products - gelatin, tallow and semen - so long as they are processed according to strict guidelines. But we are still a long way from a return to a flourishing beef trade.

For a start, Germany has said it does not want the ban lifted on any beef products at all. That is a problem because Britain will need a majority of votes among member states to get the gelatin ban lifted at the forthcoming meeting of EU veterinary experts. Despite the agriculture minister Douglas Hogg's promise to cull all cattle aged over 30 months, there is no sign that the EU will allow other beef products off the island.

The Government may have legitimate complaints about the way some in Brussels have handled the crisis. An opportunity to show how the EU might help a struggling British industry has been turned into a field day for Euro- sceptics. Yet the fundamental problem, and its solution, still lies in British fields and cowsheds. That is where the job of reassuring consumers must start and continue.

The scientific case for lifting the ban on some by-products sounds persuasive. The World Health Organisation recently concluded that gelatin was safe, because the intensive heat treatment used in manufacturing would kill off any infectious element in the meat. British gelatin, however, comes from a herd of cows in which about 200 cases of BSE are reported each week.

If the Government is to have any hope of persuading our European partners to start eating British beef again, it will have to do more to convince consumers that British herds are BSE-free. Culling elderly cattle is not the answer. While cows over 30 months may be most likely to show symptoms of the disease, their younger sons, daughters and siblings could still be incubating BSE. The Government is foolish not agree to the practice followed in other countries of wiping out herds with BSE, then restocking them from scratch. Until they draw up a strategy to put the industry on a new footing, the Government and the farmers will still find it hard to win support in Brussels.

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