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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 15:37 GMT
Food watchdog defends BSE checks
A butcher in Toulouse, France
Britain has not banned French beef
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has defended its handling of the BSE crisis following the discovery of the first cases of mad cow disease in German-born cattle.

Concerns over the spread of BSE were fuelled earlier on Friday when the Agriculture Ministry in Berlin said two German cows had tested positive for mad cow disease.

The country had previously said its own cattle were free of the disease, with the only other six cases of BSE in the country involving cattle of British and Swiss origin.

Tighter checks on beef imports had already been ordered in the UK as a result of concern over BSE in French herds. Two cases have also been discovered in Spanish cattle.

FSA chief Sir John Krebs said there was still no evidence to support a total ban on French beef, despite fears infected beef may have been imported to Britain from France.

I would not hesitate to recommend a ban on imported beef if there was a case on human health risk grounds

Sir John Krebs
Facing criticism for not joining other some EU countries in banning French beef, the FSA said it was to meet France's leading ministers face-to-face in an attempt to resolve the crisis.


The FSA has since ordered local authorities to increase checks on documentation for beef imports in an attempt to increase consumer confidence.

But food inspectors are saying it is practically impossible to identify which beef could be contaminated.

France has seen an alarming rise in the number of cases of BSE or mad cow disease with evidence suggesting the original source was contaminated animal feed bought from Britain.

Sir John Krebs
Sir John Krebs: No ban before health threat
Sir John said earlier this week "a potential loophole" might have allowed the import of beef from French cattle aged over 30 months into the UK.

But he told BBC Radio 2's Jimmy Young show on Friday: "I would not hesitate to recommend a ban on imported beef if there was a case on human health risk grounds."

Guidelines on beef more than 30 months old "are being properly applied", he said, referring to regulations banning the import of older meat from countries with instances of BSE.

The Agency was also stepping up its work with local authorities to check with retail depots, wholesalers and others that no such meat was entering Britain's food chain.

Sir John said he would also be seeking assurances from the French government over the safety of future imports when a team from the FSA travels to France next week.

Precautions urged

The decision to send inspectors to France comes after reports that Agriculture Minister Nick Brown warned Tony Blair that infected French beef may have been sold in Britain.

Nick Brown
Nick Brown: Warning over infected meat
But shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said: "Safety must come first. Other countries are showing the way by restricting French beef imports.

"Instead of standing on the sidelines, hoping his European dreams still come true, Tony Blair must admit his mistake and act now to protect the British consumer."

The Liberal Democrats urged "an interim precaution" with a strong regulatory regime across the EU.

Agriculture spokesman David Heath also called for more scientific research into the threat to public health.

BSE's human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), has killed more than 80 people in Britain since the mid-1990s and two in France.

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See also:

24 Nov 00 | Europe
BSE alert in Germany
19 Nov 00 | Scotland
Scots call for French beef ban
17 Nov 00 | Europe
Italy bans French beef imports
14 Nov 00 | Europe
France acts on BSE
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