PARIS (AP) _ France today rejected a European Community demand to lift a ban on imports of British beef and cattle, saying it would await a report from veterinarians sent to assess the so-called ''mad cow'' disease.

British officials were infuriated when France imposed the temporary ban Wednesday on the ground that the beef may be tainted by bovine spongiform encephalitis, a nervous disorder.

Britain accused France of using the disease as an excuse to protect its domestic market. France is Britain's biggest market for beef and cattle.

''They ought to lift that ban straightaway,'' said Francis Maud, British minister of state in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

''British beef is perfectly safe. All the scientific evidence points in that direction. This French ban is unjustified and clearly in breach of Community Law, and as good Europeans we find that intolerable.''

The disease, which so far has killed 13,648 cows in Britain, eats holes in the brains of infected cattle, leaving tissue spongy. The British government says there is no indication the disease can be transmitted to humans. Nevertheless, beef sales have declined sharply in Britain.

The European Community Commission, in a statement today, said it ''regrets ... the action of the French authorities, taken without prior consultation.''

''In the absence of convincing arguments for this action, the commission calls upon France to revoke the ban immediately,'' the statement said. It said the EC has taken all necessary health precautions regarding the disease.

EC Agricultural Commissioner Ray McSharry, in Paris for the annual ministerial meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said there was ''absolutely no justification'' for France's action.

Aides to French Agriculture Minister Henri Nallet said the ban would remain in effect pending the return by this weekend of French veterinarians sent to Britain to investigate the disease.

The concern of the ministry, Nallet's office said, is ''to guarantee the health of French consumers and cattle.''

The cause of the disease is not known. Because the symptoms are similar to scrapie, a sheep disease, it is assumed that the disease was transmitted through cattle feeds which use sheep offal as a protein supplement.

The British government has allocated $19 million this year for research into the disease, which was identified in Britain in 1986. The outbreak has largely been confined there, although a few cases have been confirmed in the Irish Republic.