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French Food Agency: Avoid Brit Beef

October 1, 1999

PARIS (AP) _ France’s food safety agency recommended today that a ban on imports of British beef remain in place, saying the meat may still be unsafe.

Experts at the French Food Safety Agency deemed that British beef, which has been linked to what is commonly called ``mad cow disease,″ still presents health risks.

Given the ``current scientific understanding and epidemological data available, the risk of Britain exporting contaminated beef can still not be considered completely controlled,″ said a statement by the agency.

The European Commission warned France it could face legal action if it ignored an EU decision to lift the ban.

``If the French authorities take this report as a pretext not to lift the ban on UK exports of beef, the Commisssion would be obliged to consider to take the necessary infringement proceedings,″ EU Health and Consumer Protection Commission David Byrne said in a statement.

Byrne said a first look at the French agency’s report appeared to have ``no information that has not already been examined″ by EU scientists who approved the lifting of the ban.

``The grounds for the decision to lift the ban were taken on sound scientific advice and on the basis of strict safeguards,″ Byrne said. ``They are designed to ensure that UK beef exports are safe and pose not threat to public health.″

British conservatives were outraged by the French decision.

``France’s continued ban on British beef infringes EU treaty obligations and contravenes the principle of free movement of goods,″ said Chris Heaton-Harris of the Conservative group in the EU assembly.

In a statement, the group called on the European Commission to immediately start legal actions against France. If the EU executive body failed to act, the Conservatives said British Prime Minister Tony Blair should ``not hesitate to take France to the European Court of Justice″ over the ban.

The European Commission banned exports of British beef three years ago after evidence emerged linking British beef to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or ``mad cow disease,″ that can develop into a new strain of the fatal human brain ailment, Creutzfeldt-Jacob.

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