Brown meets farmers as beef dispute continues

Bob Roberts,Eileen Murphy,Pa News
Tuesday 26 October 1999 23:00 BST

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Agriculture Minister Nick Brown was meeting British farmers today as the trade dispute over France's beef ban continued.

Agriculture Minister Nick Brown was meeting British farmers today as the trade dispute over France's beef ban continued.

Mr Brown was expected to defend the Government's refusal to ban French meat products in the wake of revelations that some of their animals were fed on sewage, and explain the efforts being made to get the beef ban lifted.

But as Mr Brown was meeting farmers at the food conference in London, others were planning to picket an education authority which buys French chicken and demonstrators in Calais were threatening new blockades of British goods.

The action comes after Prime Minister Tony Blair intervened in the row yesterday, telephoning French prime minister Lionel Jospin to set out Britain's position that the continuing ban on British beef was illegal.

The British Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "An escalating trade war would not be in our interests, it would not be in France's interests, it would not be in anybody's interests."

French farmers launched a lightning blockade of the Channel Tunnel in a "symbolic" protest at the growing boycott of French products by British stores and their leader Luc Guyau made clear that further blockades could follow.

"England is an island - it is easier to blockade than the continent," he warned.

In a further sign of the deteriorating situation the French agriculture minister Jean Glavany announced he was cancelling a planned visit at the weekend to his British counterpart Nick Brown.

The Government are hoping to calm tempers ahead of Thursday's crucial meeting of the EU's Scientific Steering Committee which will rule on whether British beef is safe.

They hope the French ban will be ruled illegal, lifted and a trade war will be avoided.

Tory leader William Hague sought to step up the pressure on ministers with a demand for an immediate ban on French chicken, pigmeat and beef in the wake of concerns about the use by French farmers of animal feeds made from sewage.

"Now our ministers are in the ludicrous position of saying that it's safe to eat meat from other countries but it's not safe to eat our own beef on the bone. They don't need a scientist, they need a psychiatrist," he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture last night published the summary of the advice given by the Government's independent scientific advisers which led him on Monday to rule out a ban on French meats.

The Joint Food Safety and Standards Group said that while the practice of adding sewage sludge to animal feed was "repugnant to consumers and illegal under Community law" it did not justify a ban.

"The JFSSG continue to advise on the basis set out above that there is no immediate health risk and therefore no basis for seeking a ban of French products at either a Community level or unilaterally," it concluded.

The advice came as Europe's food safety Commissioner, David Byrne, admitted to Euro-MPs that he had known about the sewage scandal for more than two months.

He disclosed that he had been aware since August 12 that animal feed in France was being made from human waste.

Conservative Euro-MPs said they were "stunned" - and stepped up calls on Brussels to take swift action against the French authorities.

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