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.