Will France lift ban on British beef?
French agriculture minister Jean Glavany indicated that France is not sure whether it will lift its ban on British beef, despite the ruling of the European Court of Justice. He cited a report of the EU's Food and Veterinary Office that casts doubts on the efficiency of BSE testing in the UK, and said his government's decision would be solely based on the principal of precaution.
Mr Glavany said that France took note of the ruling by the European Court of Justice, but that the protection of French consumers was the only thing that mattered. He justified France's attitude by referring to the conclusion of the Veterinary Office report, which states the following: "Most of the relevant legislation whose transposition and implementation should have been checked during this mission was neither transposed nor implemented on the spot. As active surveillance is practically not performed, it has to be assumed that the BSE incidence for GB has to be seen with a considerable degree of uncertainty."
France wants Britain to test all cattle older than 30 months, in order to get a more accurate picture of the BSE situation. At the moment, only animals destined for food production have to be tested, although the UK also tests random samples of other cattle.
On 27 March 1996, the European Commission ordered a worldwide ban on British beef, after the discovery of BSE. The ban was lifted after three years, in August 1999, but France decided to maintain it - thereby breaking European law. France said its own national Food Safety Agency was not convinced about the safety of British beef.
The ban turned into major trade row, with some UK officials advocating blockades against French goods.
On 13 December 2001, the European Court of Justice condemned France's refusal to lift the ban on direct imports of British beef. The Court nevertheless acknowledged that "certain difficulties in applying Community decisions were the result of unclear legislation" and stressed the importance of a reliable tracing system. Moreover, the Court recognised that the European Union did not have a reliable tracing system in place for beef when it allowed some British exports to resume in August 1999.
The leader of the UK's National Farmers' Union, Ben Gill, said France's unilateral ban led to heavy losses for British farmers and demanded "punitive fines" if it failed to end the ban.
The spokesman of the Agriculture Secretary, Margaret Beckett, said the Court's judgement was clear: "The judgment went against France. France should obey the law."