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991251 France Won't Lift British Beef Ban

December 31, 1999

Brussels, Belgium - France has told the European Union it will not meet a deadline for lifting its ban on British beef imports, opening the way for legal action against Paris next week at the EU supreme court.

“We will go to court, most probably on Monday,” said Jean-Christopher Filori, spokesman for the European Commission.

In a letter to the EU's executive body, the French government confirmed it would not lift the ban imposed because of fears British beef may still be contaminated by the mad cow disease. France said it would launch a counter action at the European Court of Justice accusing the commission of failing to protect consumers.

“Serious doubts persist about the risks to human health presented by consumption of British beef,” France's letter said. “The commission has disregarded the precautionary principle enshrined in the (EU) treaty.”

EU Health Commission David Byrne had given Paris until midnight Thursday to provide a satisfactory explanation for maintaining the embargo, or lift the ban in line with European law.

Filori called the French legal action “a tactical move” that would not affect the commission's case.

The commission in August lifted a worldwide ban on Britain beef exports, after EU scientists said strict new health checks meant British beef exports were as safe as meat in continental Europe.

The ban was introduced in 1996 at the height of the mad cow scare when a link was established between bovine spongiform encephalopathy, then ravaging British cattle, and a fatal human brain disease.

After a report by its own scientists, France said in October it was maintaining the ban, sparking outrage in Britain, where farmers called for boycotts on French products in retaliation.

Despite intense negotiations to find a diplomatic solution, Paris confirmed its decision not to lift the ban on Dec. 9, prompting the commission's decision to start legal proceedings.

Germany has also yet to lift the ban, but says its delay is because of slow parliamentary procedures. Other members of the 15-nation EU already allow British beef imports, but several non-EU nations, including the United States, have kept the ban.


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