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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 14:22 GMT
Q&A: The French ban on British beef
After France's food safety agency has announced it is in favour of lifting the country's six-year ban on British beef, BBC News Online considers the issues involved and what could happen next.

Q: What does this decision mean for British beef exporters?

A: It could pave the way for the lifting of the French embargo, imposed amid concern over BSE, the human form of mad cow disease

That would provide a boost for morale among farmers, removing the final stigma attached to British beef.

As well as opening up the French market for British beef exporters, the decision may open up other markets around the world which were influenced by the French caution.

Q: Will the French Government act now to lift the ban?

A: The French government has always followed the advice of its food safety agency, AFSSA.

It is expected to announce its decision on the ban this month, after a 10-day consultation with industry professionals and consumer groups.

Lifting the ban will enable it to escape a fine from the European Union, which ruled three years ago that British beef no longer carried the risk of mad cow disease.

Q: Why will France escape a fine?

France was facing a daily fine of 100,000 for continuing its embargo, after the ban was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice last December.

But if France lifts the ban before any further court action, then it will avoid any fines.

Critics say this shows the weakness of the EU because procedures take too long.

But others claim that taking France to the European Court has forced the climbdown.

Q: Why has France taken such a harsh stance in relation to British beef?

A: The French Government says it is simply responding to concerns from its own independent Food Standards Agency about the system designed to keep potential BSE infection out of British beef. It also says it is protecting the health of its own citizens.

But British farmers believe it has been a purely political move based on protectionism and playing on unjustified public fears.

Q: How important is the French market to British beef industry?

A: Historically it has been extremely important - some 300m a year before BSE.

However, that was largely based on cheap beef for processing taken from older cows which are now banned from entering the food chain.

The exports which now take place will be based mostly on the demand for high-quality British steaks in the restaurant trade.

That will never come close to the value of the previous market, and it is likely to take a long time to build up exports to more than minimal amounts.

Q: How much has the French ban cost British farmers?

A: The National Farmers' Union accepts it is extremely difficult to quantify the losses caused by the French ban.

British beef exports have dropped from a value of around 520m before the ban to almost nothing because new, strict export rules mean that little of the meat produced in Britain can be sold abroad.

Exported beef has to come from cattle slaughtered at dedicated export plants.




See also:

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