Document Directory

03 Nov 99 - CJD - Germany Seeks New Beef Talks
03 Nov 99 - CJD - Brown gives in to France on beef ban
03 Nov 99 - CJD - Britain bows to France on beef safety
03 Nov 99 - CJD - French win new scientific inquiry into safety of British beef
02 Nov 99 - CJD - Anger As Britain 'Caves In' On Beef
02 Nov 99 - CJD - Wrinkle cream link to BSE
02 Nov 99 - CJD - Cosmetics firms kept in dark on BSE danger
02 Nov 99 - CJD - French may lift ban if British beef is labelled
02 Nov 99 - CJD - Brown confronting French farms minister over beef
01 Nov 99 - CJD - Bacterium 'was what started BSE'
01 Nov 99 - CJD - Germans open second beef front
01 Nov 99 - CJD - French move to end beef war - but a German battle looms
01 Nov 99 - CJD - Germans join France in war over British beef
31 Oct 99 - CJD - Beef poisons Blair's Euro dish
31 Oct 99 - CJD - French move to end beef war - but a German battle looms
28 Oct 99 - CJD - 'Hidden BSE' test could embarrass Britain
28 Oct 99 - CJD - Blair's Delight As EU Experts Back British Beef
28 Oct 99 - CJD - British victory on beef ban
28 Oct 99 - CJD - Victory for UK: beef gets clean bill of health
28 Oct 99 - CJD - Setback For Beef Hopes As EU Experts Fail To Agree
28 Oct 99 - CJD - US cattle fed manure and wood shavings
27 Oct 99 - CJD - Chicken feed call to help pig farmers
27 Oct 99 - CJD - 'mad cow' spot checks are few and far between in France



03 Nov 99 - CJD - Germany Seeks New Beef Talks

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Wednesday 3 November 1999


Germany has signalled it wants to reopen talks about the safety of British beef .

The move follows Agriculture Minister Nick Brown's surprise decision to hold fresh discussions with the French over the lifting of their ban.

The German move came as European food safety commissioner David Byrne set a two-week deadline for Paris to resolve its difficulties over UK beef or face legal action.

The comment by German Agriculture Minister Karl-Heinz Funke will alarm British farmers.

They fear Mr Brown's agreement with France could reopen an issue they thought was settled after Friday's unanimous ruling by EU scientists giving UK beef the all-clear.

Germany, like France, has yet to lift its beef ban although ministers have said that they are working to do so by the end of the year.

However, the federal government in Berlin has no power to enforce any decision on the 16 regional governments - seven of whom are keeping the ban.

Mr Funke said: "There are points that need to be clarified with Britain, technical details about being sure of where the beef comes from. "

Meanwhile, Mr Byrne said that he expected the French government to respond by Thursday of next week following this Friday's meeting of British and French officials to discuss the "technical implementation" of lifting the ban.

If there was still no clear announcement that France was ending the embargo, Mr Byrne said he would deliver his final conclusions when the Commission meets in Strasbourg on November 16.


03 Nov 99 - CJD - Brown gives in to France on beef ban

By Martin Fletcher and Philip Webster

Times ... Wednesday 3 November 1999


New safety tests for British meat The Government was accused of caving in to the French last night after agreeing that British beef should face further safety tests before the export ban is lifted .

Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister had appeared to have the upper hand when he went into talks with his French opposite number. But in what appeared to be an astonishing climbdown during the three-hour meeting, he agreed to reopen the inquiry into five key elements of Britain's beef safety measures - creating new doubt and further delaying the ending of the beef crisis .

A team of experts will now convene on Friday to begin an inquiry into issues Britain thought it had already answered to the satisfaction of Brussels, fellow EU Governments, and the EU's Scientific Steering Committee - which last Friday declared British beef as safe as any in Europe.

A joint statement from Mr Brown, the French Agriculture Minister Jean Glavany, and the EU food safety Commissioner David Byrne said: "We have drawn up a method to emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible by identifying five points (traceability, testing, derived products, controls and labelling) worthy of being looked at by our experts over the next few days."

The five points had all been settled before the European Commission lifted the ban on British beef on August 1 and it was unclear last night why the French had not raised them then. Some officials hinted that the process agreed last night was simply a formula to allow the French to lift the ban without losing too much face.

But Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, said that it was "a cave-in by a minister who had all the aces in his hand . There is no scientific or political reason why any further tests shaould be applied to British beef. Nick Brown has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory ."

He added that the decision to submit beef to further tests would make it even harder to recapture the French market "because it suggests there is some stigma attached to this product". The action had been taken purely to save the French from embarrassment and to "spare their blushes".

Beef farmers reacted angrily to what they saw as a climbdown from Mr Brown. David Hill, vice-chairman of the NFU in Devon, said: "Has Nick Brown gone mad? Where do we go now? The French seem to be using every opportunity to extend the deadline to prevent our beef going on sale in France in competition with their own meat. I cannot understand why we seem to be toadying to the French and why were are still bending over backwards (UK correspondents note: possibly an unfortunate turn of phrase to apply to My Brown.....) to satisfy a nation."

On Sunday Mr Brown specifically ruled out a compromise on labelling or other measures which would postpone the end of the blockade. But yesterday he said: "There are issues the French want explored and it's right we explore them. We are trying to find a way forward. It's only a matter of days. The alternative is that we take the dispute to court, and before we do that it's better to see if we can resolve it."

Mr Byrne said his meetings with both sides, and then together, had been a "serious and measured" exchange of views. But the statement caused general amazement in Brussels where Britain was generally reckoned to be in a very strong position after the scientific committee's ruling last week.

Tony Blair is bound to face strong criticism in the Commons for leaning over backwards (UK correspondents note: oops!) to accommodate the French. But a government spokesman and British officials in Brussels insisted that there had been no climbdown. Mr Brown had agreed only to "technical clarification", not to the renegotiation of the entire system of controls imposed in the summer. "It's not something that takes the UK backwards. The science is clear, but we said before we came here we would approach the talks in a consturctive and open manner," said one.


03 Nov 99 - CJD - Britain bows to France on beef safety

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor, and George Jones

Telegraph ... Wednesday 3 November 1999


Britain yielded to French demands last night that British beef should be subjected to further safety checks. After three hours of talks in Brussels, Nick Brown, the Minister of Agriculture, conceded that five specific elements of Britain's consumer safeguards for beef for export would be picked over in detail at a special meeting of British, French and EU officials in the Belgian capital on Friday.

Mr Brown accepted that a fresh look at British traceability, testing, controls, labelling and safeguards for beef used in manufactured foods exported abroad should be scrutinised by the French on Friday. After that, he said, he hoped the French embargo - which is illegal under European Union rules - would be lifted "within a matter of days".

The move came four days after EU scientists decided unanimously that France had no new evidence to question the safety of British beef. The Tories accused the Government of a climbdown in order to help the French find a face-saving way of lifting the ban on British beef - a view echoed by officials and farmers' leaders in Brussels.

Tim Yeo, the shadow minister of agriculture, said: "There is no scientific reason to apply any more tests to British beef after last Friday's verdict by the EU scientists. It is simply to save the French political embarrassment and, even if the ban is lifted this week, it will make the marketing of British beef in France even harder."

Mr Bown insisted: "We have not given ground. The French have raised issues they think are worth exploring. We think they are worth exploring. It is right that the experts sit down and explore these things."

Mr Brown said it was "worth giving it a try" before the European Commission had to resort to legal action and to avoid the issue being driven back into the political arena among farm ministers. He said: "I am satisfied that the right way forward is to explore at expert level between the UK, France and the commission technical issues that are involved."

The French want to discuss Britain's arrangements that trace the origins of beef from calf to butcher's slab. The system, which utilises computers and individual cattle "passport" documents, is recognised - outside France - as one of the best in the world.

They also want to examine methods of testing the safety of the beef, the efficiency of labelling and measures to ensure that only "safe" beef gets into the export chain The Commission has already given its blessing to all these British measures after rigorous inspections.

The British move came after more than three hours of talks with Jean Glavany, the French agriculture minister, and David Byrne, the EU food safety commissioner. Asked if this decision meant that the French had been correct after all to raise new doubts, M Glavany said: "We are trying to seek common solutions together as quickly as possible. We must now try to avoid any kind of approach that somebody was right and somebody was wrong."

Mr Brown insisted that the deal did not call into question the credibility of Britain's date-based export scheme - so called because the beef comes from animals born after the risk of exposure to BSE-infected animal food was removed from British farms.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, said: "At first glance I am not unhappy with this outcome. These negotiations should facilitate the lifting of the French embargo within days within the framework of the date-based export scheme. Nothing the French have raised is not in the scheme and so, as far as we can tell, there have been no new concessions."

Earlier in London, Kalevi Hemilä , president of the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers, had said the "beef war" between Britain and France could have dire consequences for British farmers if it continued much longer.


03 Nov 99 - CJD - French win new scientific inquiry into safety of British beef

By Stephen Castle in Brussels

Independent ... Wednesday 3 November 1999


Britain unexpectedly agreed last night to a wide ranging new scientific study on the safety of its beef exports in what will be seen as a big concession to France.

The move, inevitably means further delay for the return of British beef to the French market. The plan was agreed after three hours of talks in Brussels last night.

Experts from Britain France and the European Commission will start work on Friday discussing the central elements of the British beef export scheme. The move was announced in a joint statemnt with the French minister for agriculture Jean Glavany and health minister Dominique Gillot. Mr Glavany however declined to give any committment that the French beef ban, ruled illegal by the European Commission, will be lifted.

The announcement will come as a surprise to British farmers following last weeks clean bill of health from EU scientists for British beef. Now the scientists will begin to study five areas of concern raised by France.

Last night the agriculture minister Nick Brown stressed that the UK has not made any concessions as yet adding "these are technical issues. It seems to me fair to explore them. We are talking about days and not a lengthy process".

The statement said: "We have drawn up a method to emerge from crisis as quickly as possible by identifying five points - traceability, testing, derived products, controls and labelling - worthy of being looked at by our experts over the next few days We undertake this approach in a constructive spirit and a common will to assure the public health of our citizens".

This was the first face-to-face meeting between the British and French agriculture ministers since the beginning of the bitter dispute between the two countries. While a negotiated settlement was expected, few predicted the extent of the concessions agreed to by Mr Brown.

The meeting came after a series of discussions with the European commissioner for health and consumer safety, David Byrne, who shuttled between the two ministers.


02 Nov 99 - CJD - Anger As Britain 'Caves In' On Beef

Press Association

Times ... Tuesday 2 November 1999


The Government is under attack after agreeing to yet more expert scrutiny of British beef before France lifts its ban on imports.

The move is seen as a concession to Paris, just days after scientists comprehensively rejected French claims that UK beef is still a health risk.

It triggered immediate anger as France continued to refuse to name the day when the British beef import ban will end.

Shadow agriculture secretary Tim Yeo said: "There will be massive dismay at the suggestion that even more conditions must be applied to British beef before it can be sold in France.

"Yet again, Labour is caving in to these totally unjustified demands from France, for which no scientific basis exists."

The latest twist in the beef war came after three hours of talks in Brussels between Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, his French counterpart Jean Glavany and EU food safety Commissioner David Byrne.

The meeting was called to put France on the spot over the fact that its justification for maintaining a beef ban it agreed to lift in August had been exposed as a sham.

But it ended with Mr Brown supporting French demands for a new round of experts discussions to give Paris more "clarification" on "issues of practicality and technicality".

Downing Street said there was no renegotiation and that the decision was designed to help France implement the re-opening of its markets.

But a joint statement between Britain, France and the EU Commission said the new talks would investigate five key elements of the UK's beef safety measures.

The statement said: "We have drawn up a method to emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible by identifying five points (traceability, testing, derived products, controls and labelling) worthy of being looked at by our experts over the next few days."


02 Nov 99 - CJD - Wrinkle cream link to BSE

By Valerie Elliott, Consumer Editor

Times ... Tuesday 2 November 1999


Anti-Ageing creams containing bovine material could have triggered the human form of "mad cow" disease, new evidence from the BSE inquiry has revealed.

Despite senior government scientists raising concerns over the risk to "ladies... rubbing cow brain or placenta on to their faces", no action was taken because of fears that the public might panic.

Other beauty products which posed a risk but continued to be used for several years were "exotica" anti-wrinkle cosmetics and collagen made from offal to create fuller lips.

Concerns were so great that one senior official called for a complete ban on using any bovine offal in the manufacture of cosmetic products.

Dr Hilary Pickles, a senior official working for the government's BSE committee, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Committee, was concerned that people could become infected if the creams were used on broken skin .

She also raised fears about the risk to workers in the cosmetics industry who were in regular contact with the products. But despite her concerns and discussion of the issue by the Government, no public warning was issued.

Nevertheless, cosmetic companies were told they should not use any products from British cattle. However, some companies continued to use bovine offal for several years .


02 Nov 99 - CJD - Cosmetics firms kept in dark on BSE danger

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Tuesday 2 November 1999


A warning to cosmetics companies to stop using ingredients that could have come from cattle contaminated with mad cow disease was delayed for two years , the BSE inquiry heard yesterday.

A slight potential risk was recognised early in 1988 but it was not until 1990 that the then government advised that materials made from British cattle offal should not be used in cosmetics.

Dr Hilary Pickles, a senior official at the Department of Health at the time, said cattle thymus and spleen were claimed to have anti-ageing properties. Some cattle products were also used in collagen implants. She said she was led to believe that research into the risks was being carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, but later learned that it had not been started.

The inquiry continues.

+++ A type of cell in the immune system that allows mad cow disease and variant CJD to take hold has been identified by scientists at Edinburgh's Institute for Animal Health, Nature Medicine journal said yesterday.


02 Nov 99 - CJD - French may lift ban if British beef is labelled

By Stephen Castle in Brussels

Independent ... Tuesday 2 November 1999


The European Commission hopes to resolve the Anglo-French beef crisis "this week", it said last night. A voluntary labelling scheme for British beef could lead to France lifting its ban and allay consumer fears in Germany.

A crunch meeting today between the European commissioner for health, David Byrne, and the British and French agriculture ministers will provide the first opportunity to judge the French reaction to Friday's ruling on the safety of British beef.

France is under mounting pressure to lift its ban, but the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Nick Brown, said he is willing to look at a labelling scheme, and at allowing French inspectors to visit British abattoirs, provided the embargo is removed.

Because Friday's scientific verdict was unanimous Mr Brown travels to Brussels today with a strong hand, and commission officials are unsure whether he will allow Paris to retreat gracefully.

Last night a spokeswoman for Mr Byrne said he "is very optimistic that a quick and rapid solution can be found. He is hoping for a result this week."

Under the rules of the European single market, it is illegal for France to demand beef from another country to be labelled so that consumers can identify it as non-French. The UK could, however, enter into such an arrangement voluntarily.

Commission officials are privately anxious about the position in Germany - the only other EU country still to bar British beef. Up to seven German federal regions are now threatening to vote for a continuing boycott of British beef imports, complicating the task of winning agreement in the Bundesrat. The government in Berlin is committed to winning legislation to remove the embargo, but "the Germans have been hiding behind the French", said one source.

Although the full European Commission will discuss the matter tomorrow, that is thought too soon to decide on the next course of action - in particular whether legal proceedings against France should be initiated if it does notremove its ban.

Brussels is allowing Paris a breathing space but is sensitive to fears that the French will try to play for time.

Signs of opposition to the removal of the ban in Germany may encourage those in Paris who still want to hold out.

A voluntary labelling regime would not apply to existing British beef exports, because these are very limited and are directed at hotels and restaurants rather than supermarkets. But it might hamper long-term prospects of winning back a substantial slice of the lucrative French market.

The commission is bringing forward the labelling proposal anyway. It would require products to be identified from 2001.


02 Nov 99 - CJD - Brown confronting French farms minister over beef

By Geoff Meade, European Editor, PA News in Brussels

Independent ... Tuesday 2 November 1999


Agriculture minister Nick Brown was due to confront France over the beef war today, in face-to-face talks with his counterpart from Paris.

Mr Brown will challenge Jean Glavany to open French markets to UK imports immediately, following last week's unequivocal scientific verdict that British beef is as safe as any other.

The two men have been brought together for talks in Brussels by EU Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne, who is poised to launch legal proceedings against France if it continues to ban British beef without justification.

French consumer affairs minister Marylise Lebranchu will also be present, but no instant decisions by France are expected.

The early meeting reflects Mr Byrne's determination to reach a quick settlement of the dispute, and one which avoids European Court action which could take years.

Even after such clear-cut backing for British beef, Mr Byrne is reluctant to launch legal proceedings against France for blocking imports.

He believes a rapid diplomatic solution is the best result for both Britain and France and commented on the eve of the talks: "A calm and reasoned approach to resolving this particular difficulty is by far the best way forward."

Mr Brown, meanwhile, is bound to rebuff any attempts by France to seek a token gesture from Britain over beef safety measures.

The difficulty for French prime minister Lionel Jospin is that recent public health scandals in France have reduced his government's room for manoeuvre on food health issues.

And giving way to the EU scientific verdict would seriously embarrass the country's own independent Food Safety Agency, which claimed that British beef still posed a health risk.

It was the new agency's first public pronouncement since its fanfare launch, and it now leaves Mr Jospin in a tight spot - needing either to acknowledge that the body has been discredited or demand some symbolic further tightening of British beef measures against mad cow disease to save face.

But the scientific findings against France were so comprehensive that the government is in no mood to make concessions, and the commission is not out to broker a compromise deal.

Tory Euro MP Caroline Jackson said: "The French can have no further court of appeal. Difficult and humiliating as it may be, they have to back down ."

The hope is that France will simply accept the findings and announce a lifting of the British beef imports ban which all member states agreed should be removed from last August 1.

If Mr Byrne is forced to launch legal action in the European Court of Justice, it would take at least 18 to 24 months to complete.

That would do little for British farmers, who are already expected to press compensation claims on the French authorities for lost income because of the continuing French ban.

Conservative Euro MP Struan Stevenson said actual losses in France would realistically be small, since little beef could have been expected to be exported to France if markets had opened as promised on August 1.

But he said farmers should be lodging claims with the French for damaging the reputation of British beef across Europe without justification.

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said he believed Nick Brown's next stop after Brussels should be Berlin for talks with his German counterparts.

But, he insisted: "There should, of course, now be no question of making any concessions to accept perhaps, as was suggested, a special labelling requirement. It would in practical terms suggest to consumers abroad that there was still some stigma attached to British beef.

"Politically it would also show that we are still acting from a position of weakness which shouldn't really exist at all." Mr Yeo said the Tories believed that the right way to get the British beef ban overturned was to work through the machinery of the European Commission.

He had written to Mr Brown stressing that one concession he could make "would be to announce this morning that he was lifting the ban on beef on the bone at home".

"He seems to be the only person in Europe at the moment who doesn't realise that if the British Government doesn't have full confidence in British beef, it is hardly surprising that the French don't either," Mr Yeo told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.


01 Nov 99 - CJD - Bacterium 'was what started BSE'

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Monday 1 November 1999


Evidence supporting a theory that BSE was caused by bacteria found in contaminated water , sewage and the soil - not by a rogue prion protein - has been gathered by a team of British scientists.

Research shows that auto-antibodies to Acinetobacter calcoaceticus were found in high numbers in serum taken from 29 cattle that succumbed to BSE, compared to little or no signs of the antibodies in BSE-free cattle from organic and other "conventionally" reared herds.

The results of the work by the team from King's College, London, the Middlesex Hospital and Wickham Laboratories, Hants, are to be published in the American scientific journal Infection and Immunity next month. Prof Alan Ebringer, Professor of Immunology at King's College, said yesterday that he believed it was this bacterium which started the BSE epidemic .

BSE multiplied within the cattle population due to changes in the rendering process in the 1970s and 1980s which turned animal remains into protein, which was then fed to cattle, he said. This practice has now been stopped in the UK.

Prof Ebringer also believes this bacterium has caused a number of fatal illnesses after being contracted by victims from the general environment, not by eating beef. This, he says, would account for the fact that some of the 47 people who have died in Britain from the new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease - the human form of BSE - were vegetarians.

Prof Ebringer said: "If we are right both British and French beef is safe."


01 Nov 99 - CJD - Germans open second beef front

Staff Reporter

Times ... Monday 1 November 1999


Germany was heading for a confrontation with the European Commission last night after leading politicians said that they still opposed lifting the import ban on British beef. Despite signs that France might relax its ban, regional German politicians are digging in their heels .

Germany has been the most nervous of EU countries on the dangers posed by BSE-infected cattle. Even before British beef products were outlawed in Germany, the demand for British meat had shrunk drastically.

The driving force for a continuation of the ban comes from the 16 regional governments, the Länder, which have the authority to restrict foreign foodstuffs for health reasons .

Yesterday seven of the 16 regions declared themselves to be against an end to the ban, despite the European Commission's report backing the safety of British beef. Other German regions are likely to form a common front in this new round of the beef war.

The German Government needs parliamentary approval before relaxing the ban. That means a decision has to be passed also by the Upper House, the Bundesrat, in which the regional governments are represented.

"I am disappointed by the Brussels decision," Bärbel Höhn, the Agriculture Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, said. "Fifty people have died from BSE and in this year alone there have been 300 active BSE cases in cattle. That is why I am going to fight against the import of British beef and in favour of consumer protection."

Josef Miller, the Bavarian Agriculture Minister, agreed: "As long as there are new outbreaks in Britain, one cannot lift the import ban."

The front against British beef crosses party frontiers, with both Christian Democratic and Social Democratic- ruled regions urging the Berlin Government to stay firm. Andrea Fischer, the federal Health Minister, will meet representatives of the regions on Thursday to see if she can work out a compromise that could head off legal action from the European Commission. Yesterday the Greens said that strict food-labelling rules had to be implemented before British beef was allowed to enter the country.

"Everybody has to know the origin of the meat, wherever it is found, be it in sausages or pizza toppings, that is on offer in shops and supermarkets," Frau Fischer said. "If there is any doubt, we have to come down in favour of protecting the consumer." The calculation is that once meat is clearly marked with the Union Jack, the German consumer will choose something else .

Yesterday German tabloid newspapers were beginning to heat up the popular opposition to British beef. "Germans have to swallow English beef again ," Berlin's BZ newspaper said, next to a photograph of a cow garlanded with Union Jacks. "Does this cow have BSE?" the caption asked.

German scientists are supporting the sceptical approach. Dr Hans Kretz-schmar, a leading BSE expert, said that the import ban should last until 2001. That would allow for a proper monitoring for a five-year incubation period from 1996.

Regional agriculture ministers seem to agree with this assessment and may be ready to risk European legal action for the next 18 months until that incubation period is over.


01 Nov 99 - CJD - French move to end beef war - but a German battle looms

By John Lichfield in Paris and Fran Abrams

Independent ... Monday 1 November 1999


The Anglo-French beef war was heading towards resolution yesterday as the two governments edged to a compromise which would allow British beef back onto the French market.

But a new beef row could be looming with Germany, seven of whose 16 federal states indicated yesterday they want to keep an import ban on British beef despite Friday's unanimous ruling by EU scientists that it is safe.

Prime ministers of the dissenting states were quoted in German Sunday newspapers as saying that they would not lift their import bans as long as there were new cases of mad cow disease reported in Britain.

"As long as new illnesses arise through BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in Britain it would be irresponsible to lift the import ban," Bavarian health minister Josef Miller said.

The British and French agriculture ministers have agreed to talks in Brussels with the European Commission tomorrow and sources in London hinted at some face-saving concessions to bring a speedy end to the cross-channel dispute.

The EU's food safety commissioner David Byrne said France had made a "positive" preliminary response to the EU scientists' ruling.

An official reply would be presented by the French on Thursday, Mr Byrne said.

Most signs indicate that both the Paris government and French farmers would like to see the dispute wrapped up as quickly as possible.

In a television interview yesterday the Minister for Agriculture Nick Brown left open the possibility of British concessions but said he was unsure what could be offered.

"I am willing to consider anything that is reasonable. However... it's actually quite difficult to see what (those concessions) might be. I want to approach this with an open mind and I want to behave fairly, and I want to get the issue settled quickly," he said.

The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, said at the weekend that the French government had to decide between the "principle of precaution" in food safety on the one hand and respect for EU rules on the other. He said that Paris had also to consider whether it wished to continue "a conflict, which we never sought, with a country which we consider a friend".


01 Nov 99 - CJD - Germans join France in war over British beef

By Andrew Gimson in Berlin, George Jones and David Brown

Telegraph ... Monday 1 November 1999


The Government was facing the threat of a second front in the European beef war last night after German provinces vowed to continue resisting the import of British meat.

While France promised to respond within days to the unanimous verdict of EU scientists that British beef was safe, a defiant response from Germany dashed hopes of a swift resumption of exports to the Continent. It also emerged that France was still blocking lorry loads of British beef, despite assurances that it would not bar meat destined for southern Europe.

The opposition in France and Germany is a blow for Tony Blair, who has announced plans for a summit later this month to promote beef exports. David Byrne, the EU Food Commissioner, yesterday sought to play down fears that France would drag its feet over lifting the ban.

He said the French Government had made a "positive" response to the report issued by the 16 independent EU scientists in Brussels on Friday. Mr Byrne said Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, expected to review France's ban on British beef this week and to present a response by Thursday. He said: "In addition, the French minister for trade and consumer affairs welcomed the report from the expert group. So there has been a positive response from the French."

Mr Byrne raised hopes that the matter would be resolved diplomatically within "weeks". He told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme that taking the French Government to the European Court of Justice was "the last option".

A French minister also suggested that his government did not want to take the case to the European courts. Pierre Moscovic, European affairs minister, said France would simply seek guarantees that exports were properly labelled.

French and British officials will meet in Brussels tomorrow to seek a solution.The European Commission said Jean Glavany, the French farm minister, Marylise Lebranchu, the French consumer protection minister, and Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, will have talks with Mr Byrne. But the French consumers' association yesterday urged its government to keep the ban in place, despite the latest scientific evidence.

France's Green party, partners in the Socialist-led coalition, urged the government to stick to its ban on British beef for at least another year. The German government is also facing resistance to ending the ban on British beef from the country's 16 provinces, whose consent is needed in the Bundesrat, or second chamber of parliament. It will have talks this week with the provincial governments in an attempt to reach an agreed position.

Many of the provinces served notice over the weekend that they were prepared to defy the EC ruling to resume beef imports. Three weeks ago the French authorities said they would allow British beef trucks through the country provided they were sealed. But lengthy and tangled negotiations with the French authorities have failed to establish the seal to be used.

Sheep farmers yesterday appealed to Mr Hague, the Tory party leader, to "cool" political protests against the French. The National Sheep Association, which has 25,000 members, sent a letter to Mr Hague saying it was "increasingly concerned at the apparent escalation of the strength of words used publicly about the problems with trading with France". The association warned that it could provoke a major French backlash which could halt British lamb exports worth more than £170 million a year.


31 Oct 99 - CJD - Beef poisons Blair's Euro dish

Patrick Wintour and Sarah Ryle

Observer ... Sunday 31 October 1999


The row with France is testing - possibly to destruction - the PM's claim that a good European can get results in Brussels,

Barton Stacey swears he knows the cows that come through his Cornish abattoir so well he could write their horoscopes. This is important because the meat from his cows is the only beef in England that can be exported to France - or anywhere else in the world.

Along with one other abattoir in Scotland, the St Merryn factory is the only meat-producing plant with a licence to sell abroad. It processes 120 cows a day. The entire 'beef war' is being fought over fewer than 600 cattle a week .

It may be small fry in the grander export market picture, but Stacey's company is worried: it has spent a fortune on computer tracking systems and salaries for officials who check and check again that strict European guidelines are met. One of the two official vets employed at the factory is French and commutes each week to the abattoir near St Austell from his home across the Channel. The factory's main customer is Belgium.

Stacey's voice wavers between weariness and growling anger as he contemplates the impact the French beef ban is having on his business. But he also blames the British farmers. 'They are not helping themselves. This is doing nothing to restore the image of British beef, which is the safest in the world.'

Ten years ago the factory could process hundreds of cattle each day. The stringent standards that won this abattoir its 'Date Based Export Scheme' certificate in August have added 40 per cent to the time it takes to process each carcass.

The amount St Merryn plans to export to Europe is paltry in comparison with the 237,000 tonnes shipped to the Continent in the 12 months before the March 1996 beef ban. The total annual value of the trade back then was £564 million. Even by 2001 the Government is not predicting the beef trade will have climbed back to £50m.

By contrast, Britain exports £2.1bn food exports to France. Whisky sales to France alone are worth £214m. So the beef war that engulfed Britain last week was not really about a right to trade.

But it spoke volumes about Labour's uneasy relationship with the countryside, and the credibility of the whole Blairite policy of European engagement . The dispute tests, possibly to destruction, the claim that a good European, backed by mature arguments, can get results in Brussels.

The diplomatic phone lines over the Channel crackled all week as Tony Blair strove to maintain the credibility of his European strategy. Pro-Europeans such as Michael Heseltine looked on anxiously, wondering if they should intervene.

Blair spoke to European Commission president Romano Prodi twice, telling him the outcome was a test for the new Commission's credibility in Britain . He also spoke to Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, on Wednesday afternoon, soon after being grilled by William Hague in the Commons. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook pressed Hubert Védrine, his opposite number, and there have even been contacts between Bernard Candiard, the French government spokesman, and Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press spokesman. One outcome was a decision to field the French-speaking Joyce Quinn, British Agriculture Minister, to the French media on Wednesday, in an effort to lower the temperature and distance the British Government from the tabloid media.

But the French government found it difficult not to rise to the bait of the British tabloids. Jean Glavany, the French Agriculture Minister, poked fun at the British condition saying: 'When I have seen the media and public figures who have always campaigned against Europe enjoining France to apply absolutely at any price a European decision, I say to myself that the Community spirit is making rapid progress in Britain, and at this rate they are soon going to be joining the euro.' The tension inside Downing Street was especially acute as Blair has invested so much in improving relations with France. He has famously spoken in French to the National Assembly, and played host to his Socialist counterpart, Jospin. The two men had a shaky start, but Blair now believes he has enlisted Jospin as an ally in his attempt to reform European labour markets - a key precondition for British entry into the euro.

The two leaders are also due to share a platform on 8 November at the three-yearly Congress of the Socialist International in Paris, an embarrassingly unfraternal event if the row is still simmering. The two leaders are then due to meet again in Florence for a symposium on the Third Way, and on 25 November they gather in Downing Street for the Anglo-French summit, due to focus on their mutual drive for greater European defence co-operation. The initiative has been Blair's passport to the top tables of Europe.

There was more than a hint of Foreign Office frustration over Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown's decision to mount a personal boycott of French goods. But Downing Street stood by Brown and privately recognised the French government had been caught in a vice. Jospin is not at his strongest domestically at present, partly due to a corruption scandal engulfing his Ministers and doubts over the implementation of the 35-hour week. Jospin is also facing a consumer backlash over food, following revelations that dioxin had entered the food chain in Belgium. As a result, France passed a law setting up its own independent food standards agency, the Agence Française de Securité Sanitaire des Aliments.

The new body began work only in June and all relevant EU rulings are to be referred to it. Its 600-page report on British beef was its first substantial intervention and came when the French had not reconciled in law whether EU scientists or its own experts took precedence.

Jospin could hardly be seen to be ignoring his own scientific committee in favour of the Brussels-based body, especially since the causes of BSE and its method of transmission are still a matter of international scientific debate . In the age of consumer anxiety, few politicians, and especially French politicians, who can be legally liable for any public health disasters, will blithely ignore the views of their scientific community.

Glavany - with whom Brown had good relations until recently - points out: 'Whatever the efforts being made by the British, whatever the decline in this epidemic, there will be almost 3,000 cases of mad cow disease in Britain in 1999 . In the light of this statistic, the food safety risk is not nil.

'All of the 30 French scientists on the French food safety comittee were researchers and none of them is linked to any economic sector. It was absolutely impossible for the government, if it did not want to undermine the public credibility of bodies we had ourselves created, simply to note this decision taken unanimously by the experts and then say we're not following it.'

Britain still wants to know why it took the French until 1 October to come up with its objections. The decision in principle to allow British beef back on to the European market was made last November by EU farm Ministers. At the time Glavany abstained, saying the final decision should be deferred and the French should be involved in the planned European Commission's monitoring inspections in Britain.

It was at an EU summit in Florence in June 1996 that John Major first won approval for a framework setting out how the ban could be lifted. It took until October 1997 for Britain to put forward a Date-based Export Scheme, allowing for the export of deboned fresh meat from eligible animals born after 1 August 1996, the date at which no UK cattle could have been exposed to mammalian meat and bone meal, the principal route for infection. To address the risk of maternal transmission of BSE, an animal was eligible only if it was not the offspring of BSE-infected dams, or mothers. An animal could be exported only if all its records were registered.

The proposal was put to EU's scientific steering committee in February 1998, and the ban was lifted in principle in November last year. So why did French scientists take a different line? The French claimed the disease was not tailing off as fast as predicted, and that it could not be known before August 2001, on the basis of clinical symptoms, if the British herd was free of BSE.

When the 16-strong European scientific committee, chaired by a Frenchman but including four Britons, assembled in Brussels for its two-day session, Downing Street knew the fate of the Blairite European project hung in the balance. The Daily Mail was baying for Blair's blood, accusing him of pusillanimity, naiveté and being abject in his failure to stand up for British interests.

Downing Street believed the scientists would come down on Britain's side, but admits: 'We never expected a 16-0 result. We thought there would be enough caveats for the French to make a fuss.'

When the news came through to Campbell, within minutes he was briefing that he outcome was a vindication of the strategy of engagement.

But the jury is out until the French government decides whether to comply with Europe. For the moment, the abattoirs at St Merryn Meat need not fear working overtime.


31 Oct 99 - CJD - French move to end beef war - but a German battle looms

By John Lichfield in Paris and Fran Abrams

Independent ... Sunday 31 October 1999


The Anglo-French beef war was heading towards resolution yesterday as the two governments edged to a compromise which would allow British beef back onto the French market.

But a new beef row could be looming with Germany , seven of whose 16 federal states indicated yesterday they want to keep an import ban on British beef despite Friday's unanimous ruling by EU scientists that it is safe.

Prime ministers of the dissenting states were quoted in German Sunday newspapers as saying that they would not lift their import bans as long as there were new cases of mad cow disease reported in Britain.

"As long as new illnesses arise through BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) in Britain it would be irresponsible to lift the import ban," Bavarian health minister Josef Miller said.

The British and French agriculture ministers have agreed to talks in Brussels with the European Commission tomorrow and sources in London hinted at some face-saving concessions to bring a speedy end to the cross-channel dispute.

The EU's food safety commissioner David Byrne said France had made a "positive" preliminary response to the EU scientists' ruling.

An official reply would be presented by the French on Thursday, Mr Byrne said.

Most signs indicate that both the Paris government and French farmers would like to see the dispute wrapped up as quickly as possible.

In a television interview yesterday the Minister for Agriculture Nick Brown left open the possibility of British concessions but said he was unsure what could be offered.

"I am willing to consider anything that is reasonable. However... it's actually quite difficult to see what (those concessions) might be. I want to approach this with an open mind and I want to behave fairly, and I want to get the issue settled quickly," he said.

The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, said at the weekend that the French government had to decide between the "principle of precaution" in food safety on the one hand and respect for EU rules on the other. He said that Paris had also to consider whether it wished to continue "a conflict, which we never sought, with a country which we consider a friend".


28 Oct 99 - CJD - 'Hidden BSE' test could embarrass Britain

Peter Capella in Geneva and James Meikle

Guardian ... Thursday 28 October 1999


The only country to test dead cattle for "hidden BSE" has found more cases than had previously been evident in its national herd, it was revealed last night.

Trials in Switzerland since March have uncovered early signs of the fatal condition in 18 cows that had not displayed traditional symptoms before they were slaughtered.

The results effectively doubles the number of BSE cases in Switzerland this year and could cause severe embarrassment to Britain, since they suggest a substantial number of infected cattle may be escaping detection elsewhere.

The company behind the tests says a British supermarket chain and two others in Europe have shown interest . Regional health chiefs in Germany meet next month to discuss whether they should adopt the test.

Britain has refused to introduce such tests, regarding them to be of unproven reliability [there is overwelming evidence for validity of the tests -- webmaster] , and has preferred to rely on other measures, including banning all older animals from the food chain and beef on the bone. The government prefers to wait for a reliable test on live animals, which could be years away. [The Schmerr blood test has been available for 18 months -- webmaster]

One of the main planks of France's case against lifting the ban on British beef is that there may be undetected cases being used for food. But the British embassy in Paris has rejected this notion. "The rules of the export scheme are designed to prevent meat from pre-clinical cases [cattle infected but not showing symptoms] from being exported by cutting off all known routes of infection." [Pasture in Britain may be contaminated -- as it is with scrapie and CWD in the US. BSE may persist for centuries, as has scrapie. -- webmaster]

The rebuttal of the French case added that France did not ban as wide a range of nervous tissues from sale as food. Neither did it ban older animals, which were more likely to be infected.

The only official confirmation of BSE in this country is the examination of the brains of stricken cows after death - but even this puts the number at 175,761 over the past 13 years , dwarfing even the Swiss - one of the worst-affected countries in Europe with 318 .

Two firms have led the way in developing a diagnostic test on tissues from carcasses. One is the British-based Protherics , and the other is Prionics , based at Zurich university. The Prionics test, already routinely used on cattle that die naturally or those needing emergency slaughter, has found 16 cases not identified by other means. In addition, limited tests on 4,847 carcasses in abattoirs, bound for human consumption, found two BSE cases.

Hans Wyss, of the Swiss veterinary service, said testing would be expanded over the next year "to come closer to reality in determining BSE cases." Eighteen cases have been found so far displaying clinical signs.

Marcus Moser, director of Prionics, said checks had shown some of the stock had shown signs of "odd behaviour", though nothing that revealed a real problem. But the Swiss have been unable to tell if any of the cows uncovered by the Prionics test were under 30 months, the oldest British cows can be eaten.

Dr Moser said removing the brain, spine and other tissues from carcasses, as happens in Britain, was still the most effective way of reducing risk to human health. "We could call the existing measures a seatbelt, while this is like adding an airbag. The question is whether you make it mandatory. If there is one country that does very well with it, is there any reason why the European Union shouldn't do it?"

The British government has said that the Protherics test only shows BSE in cattle already displaying clinical signs. It does not randomly check the brains of animals slaughtered for food. However, tests last year on cattle killed at over 30 months have suggested that about 0.3% of the 749,631 [= 2249 cattle] may have had BSE even though they did not display any outward signs.

Comment (Marcus Moser, director of Prionics): "This first group of statements correctly mentions the considerable increase in BSE cases reported this year from Switzerland. We would like to emphasize that this is the result of an improved surveillance rather than a true increase in the number of BSE cases present in the cattle population.

What has been done is that the passive surveillance, i.e. the mandatory reporting and examination of clinical supect cattle, has been backed up by an active targeted surveillance testing all fallen stock [downers], cattle subject to emergency slaughter, and a sample of routinely slaughtered cattle.

Passive surveillance detected 16 BSE cases until October 10, 1999, while active surveillance detected an additional 18 cases that would have gone unnoticed otherwise. Before the implementation of the targeted surveillance, this latter segment, in Switzerland over 50% of the BSE cases reported this year, was simply not seen but was certainly present in the population.

There is little reason NOT to assume that a similar proportion of detectable BSE cases (should BSE be present) went unnoticed in all other countries in which BSE surveillance in based purely on mandatory reporting of clinical suspects.

All BSE cases detected through mandatory reporting (passive surveillance; 16) displayed clinical (neurological) signs of disease that made them suspicious for BSE. The two cattle detected in the abattoir sample (routine slaughter) were clinically healthy animals that passed ante mortem examination.

All cattle from the fallen stock (12) and the emergency slaughter group (4) had signs of a disease (the reason for emergency slaughter or culling/death), some of which could have pointed towards BSE and others that certainly did not fit into our current picture of typical clinical BSE.

This is an indication that early clinical signs of BSE might be too unspecific to immediately point towards the disease, or that they are masked by other health problems and therefore go unnoticed. There are two ways to capture those animals with unspecific clinical signs, either by widening the definition of a clinical suspect (thereby hopefully capturing more cases through passive surveillance) or through active targeted surveillance (i.e. testing) of sick cattle - fallen stock and cattle subject to emergency slaughter.

Switzerland is doing both , with organising continued education seminars for cattle practitioners to increase disease awareness for clinical signs of BSE, and through the intensive targeted surveillance programme that will be continued in the year 2000.

To correct a last statement in the article, the age of all BSE cases detected so far in Switzerland is certainly known. For this year (1999), the age range of the reported clinical cases (passive surveillance) was 49 and 108 months, and the age range of the additionally detected animals (targeted surveillance) was 43-87 months. None of this years BSE cases was under 30 months of age."


28 Oct 99 - CJD - Blair's Delight As EU Experts Back British Beef

Press Association

Guardian ... Thursday 28 October 1999


The Government is celebrating a major victory in the Anglo-French trade war after European scientific experts concluded unanimously that British beef is safe.

Following the announcement of the ruling of the 16-member Scientific Steering Committee in Brussels, European Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne immediately urged France to lift its beef ban.

A delighted Tony Blair said the committee's decision vindicated the Government's tactics in the face of Tory demands for Britain to impose a retaliatory ban on French meats.

"It is exactly what we had hoped for and worked hard to achieve," he said in a statement.

"We said throughout that we had the law on our side and science on our side. We have shown that by playing by the rules, putting your cause calmly but forcefully, it is possible to win for Britain in Europe.

"We will now keep up the work to make sure the decision is implemented and continue to help our farmers to recover from the disaster of BSE.

"It is also good news for our exporters who agreed with the Government that a tit-for-tat trade war would have damaged the national interest."


28 Oct 99 - CJD - British victory on beef ban

Stephen Bates in Brussels and James Meikle

Guardian ... Thursday 28 October 1999


Experts reject French claim that British beef is unsafe

Britain's long struggle to secure export markets for its beef took a decisive step forward last night when a European scientific committee unanimously rejected French claims that the meat could not be considered safe.

In an almost unprecedented triumph for a British case in Europe, EU experts concluded that the regulations for British beef now in force do not need to be revised or tightened as the French have demanded.

Tony Blair, welcoming the decision, said: "We said throughout that we had the law on our side, we had science on our side. We have shown by playing by the rules, by putting our case calmly but forcefully, it is possible to win for Britain in Europe."

The European commission immediately announced that France will now be expected to fall into line with other European states and lift its ban on British beef as quickly as possible and that Germany - the only other EU member state not so far to have lifted its ban - must also now proceed to do so within a fortnight.

One senior British EU official in Brussels said: "It is good to see Britain winning its case for once. It is now game and set but the match is yet to be won."

There was no immediate announcement from Paris after the decision. Jean Glavany, the French agriculture minister, is currently with Lionel Jospin, the prime minister, on a visit to the French Caribbean.

The decision in Brussels followed a second day of meetings between the 16 senior scientists on the EU's scientific steering committee, charged with determining whether France had any objective basis for refusing to fall into line with the commission's decision last July that British beef could be re-exported.

The German government indicated to the commission last night that it would now proceed to lift its ban on British exports. It had previously said it would wait for the outcome of the scientific investigation into France's claims.

In a statement the committee said: "[We] today concluded unanimously that we do not share the concern expressed by the French food safety agency. The detailed examination of the available data and new assessments clearly indicate that there are no grounds for revising the overall conclusions [that] the safety of UK meat and meat products is comparable to these foods coming from elsewhere in the EU."

The decision places the French government in the painful position of falling into line with the EU decision, and so disavowing the recommendations of its own scientific advisers a month ago, or continuing its opposition to a European directive, which would mean facing court action and eventually hefty fines.

France has said it will not lift its ban except on the advice of its own experts but its officials and diplomats in recent days had indicated that the government was keen to do so if it received additional assurances from Britain.

The French have been arguing that BSE has not been eradicated in Britain - there are still estimated to be more than 2,000 cases in the UK this year - and that it is therefore unsafe to allow exports to resume. But the EU experts determined that the rate of decline in the disease was well in line with predictions and the restrictions imposed on British meat for export mean there is no health risk to overseas consumers.

David Byrne, the Irish consumer safety commissioner, said: "I expect the French authorities will accept the decision and hopefully we will achieve an amicable resolution of what has been a difficult four weeks. As things stand at the moment, the British date-based export scheme has been fully vindicated. The system put in place is a good system."

Professor Gerard Pascal, the French chairman of the scientific steering committee, said he fully accepted the decision. "We had no fundamental differences of opinion. We arrived at a unanimous decision on the questions before us."

Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, is expected to have talks with his French opposite number and Mr Byrne early next week. It is thought Britain may agree to label its beef when it sends it for export.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers' Union, said: "The weight of pressure on France to lift its ban immediately is overwhelming.

"There is now compelling pressure on the French authorities to lift their illegal embargo without further delay. There can be no possible justification for any further prevarication."

France took about 80,000 tonnes a year of the 274,000 tonnes of British beef exported in the year before the EU export ban was imposed in 1996. It was formally lifted by the EU on August 1, but the commission admits it could take years to rebuild trade.


28 Oct 99 - CJD - Victory for UK: beef gets clean bill of health

By Stephen Castle in Brussels, John Lichfield in Paris, and Katherine Butler

Independent ... Thursday 28 October 1999


Britain scored a decisive victory in the Anglo-French beef war last night when EU scientists surpassed all expectations and unanimously rejected France's claim that British beef is unsafe.

The result puts massive political pressure on the French government to back down and remove its illegal blockade of British beef exports. The ruling came after a month of phoney war rhetoric over food which has soured cross-Channel relations and threatened to spread into an all-out trade war involving consumer boycotts across Britain and a short-lived port blockade in France.

A relieved and delighted Tony Blair greeted the news as a vindication of his refusal to give in to the frenzy of anti-European and anti-French feeling which the Conservatives had sought to whip up in recent days. "It is possible to win for Britain in Europe," Mr Blair declared.

"We said throughout we had law on our side, science on our side. We have done this by playing by the rules but putting our case calmly but forcefully.

"We will now keep up the work to make sure the decision is implemented and continue to help our farmers to recover from the disaster of BSE," he said.

The 16-member Scientific Steering Committee ruled after two days of intense scrutiny that there was "no justification" for the continuing French ban. The European Commission immediately warned Paris to "take stock... and lift their national restrictions on imports of British beef".

But the Commission also hinted heavily last night that it expects the Britain to come forward with new proposals on beef labelling to reassure French consumers. A new system of testing for mad cow disease is also being planned by Brussels.

The EU's Health Commissioner, David Byrne, who presented the findings, called on Paris and Germany - which has also not lifted its ban - to remove their restrictions: "Those restrictions are no longer necessary in the light of the safeguards in place."

France justified its ban on beef exports with a 600-page presentation of alleged "new evidence" on the dangers of British beef. This was comprehensively rejected yesterday and Paris is now certain to be threatened with prosecution in the European court if it fails to lift its embargo. The French government said last night that there would be no official reaction until it had fully digested the scientific committee's findings.

The committee, which was made up of independent food safety experts from across Europe, said that providing Britain continues to respect the tight health conditions already imposed on exports, its meat "is comparable to these foods coming from elsewhere in the EU". It was adamant that "there are no grounds for revising" the EU's decision in August to lift the ban on British beef.

The scientists concluded that "it is clear that the decline of the [British BSE] epidemic continues in line with scientific expectations." The findings were fully endorsed by the committee's French chairman, Gérard Pascal.

But a rapid end to the crisis now rests with the independent French food safety agency, which objected to the lifting of the beef ban in the first place. Politically - although not legally - the French government cannot respond until it had asked the agency to examine the committee's reasoning.

If the French agency is prepared to accept Britain's assurances and the unanimous conclusions of the EU scientists, the crisis could be over rapidly.

If the agency refuses to back down, the French government will almost certainly allow itself to be taken to the European Court and will fight its case there.

The Minister of Agriculture, Nick Brown, warmly welcomed the committee's findings and said they "clearly vindicated" the position taken by the British Government that British beef exports are safe.

Tim Yeo, the Tory agriculture spokesman, said the result was "a great victory for British farming", but cautioned that the French had yet to act on the EU's ruling.

David Byrne, the EU food safety commissioner, said that the message for France was clear. "I believe the French and German authorities should take stock of the committee's opinion and lift their national restrictions on imports of British beef."


28 Oct 99 - CJD - Setback For Beef Hopes As EU Experts Fail To Agree

Press Association

Guardian ... Thursday 28 October 1999


Government hopes of a clear-cut ruling that British beef is safe have suffered a setback after a meeting of European scientific experts broke up without agreement.

The European Commission said the 16-strong Scientific Steering Committee, meeting in Brussels, was "nowhere near a consensus" on French claims that UK beef still carried a risk of BSE contamination.

Although the committee, which advises the Commission, is due to resume deliberations on Friday, the lack of solid progress will raise fears that it will be unable to deliver a firm conclusion .

That would be a devastating blow for British ministers who have pinned their hopes on the committee producing a ruling which would provide a solid platform for legal action to force the French to lift their beef ban.

For weeks, ministers and officials have expressed their absolute confidence that the committee would repeat its verdict of July that British beef was safe and reject the new evidence presented by the French food standards agency.

Failure by the committee to reaffirm that view on Friday could lead to other EU nations considering reimposing their own beef bans , undermining the Government's strategy of positive engagement with Europe and realising the worst nightmares of British cattle farmers.

In the Commons, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown was in bullish mood, insisting that the British view would prevail.

"I have looked at the (French) evidence and it contains nothing not known to us and the steering committee," he told MPs during an agriculture debate. "We have science on our side, the law on our side and the Commission on our side. The French are isolated."

Downing Street was also insistent that "we have right on our side".

However, the Prime Minister's official spokesman acknowledged that legal action against the French may not be the best way of achieving their goal of getting the ban lifted.


28 Oct 99 - CJD - US cattle fed manure and wood shavings

Tim Radford, Science Editor

Guardian ... Thursday 28 October 1999


Beef producers in the US still use poultry litter as stock feed.

The mix of chicken manure and wood shavings is, says the North Carolina extension service, "an economical and safe source of protein, minerals and energy for beef cattle". American farmers still also use bone and feather meals to beef up output.

But in both Britain and France - and everywhere in the EU - such experiments officially came to an end long ago, and European cows and sheep are back on vegetarian diets. They are supplied with high protein, high energy cakes and crunch bars made from apple pomace, bakery products and barley, full fat soya, grape pulp and grass meal, maize gluten, malt residuals, mango and manioc, sunflower, sweet lupins and sweet potato, stuck together with minerals, molasses and vegetable oils of any description.

Farmers need cheap food, so manufacturers use what waste products are sold locally, and everywhere in Europe, the precise recipe for the cattle equivalent of the crunchy cereal bar is slightly different.

Alexander Döring of Fefac, the European consortium of agricultural feed suppliers in Brussels, said one thing was clear. "We have a ban on animal protein throughout the EU. There is a total ban on mammalian meat and bone meal for the whole of the EU. The one difference between the EU and the UK and the rest of Europe is that, because of commercial pressures, the UK people do not use tallow as an animal ingredient and have to replace it with fat of vegetable origin. "

Mike Evans, of the UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association, agreed that French cattle diets are very like British ones. "They will use many of the ingredients we use in the UK, which is why we are a little shocked at the revelation that, allegedly, human and animal excrement had been used," he said. "They most certainly use fat from rendering plants to provide energy in the diets. We don't since BSE. We use vegetable oil, they use both."

Animal fats are a valuable source of high energy: if pure, they do not contain the rogue proteins that have been fingered as the culprit behind BSE or the new form of CJD which has so far taken 43 lives. So tallows recovered from rendering plants go into French cattle feed. Most European nations will also allow fishmeal as a protein source, and even poultry meal , but the French have banned everything except hydrolised fish meal: fish protein converted to a kind of Marmite. In Britain and other parts of Europe in the 1960s and 70s, there were experiments with poultry litter, town sewage sludge and farmyard slurry as sources of cattle feed. If fermented, experts argued, these could provide safe supplements rich in nitrogen. But the experiments were abandoned, then outlawed, across Europe.

"In this era, in this climate, it turns us off to even think about it, but back in the 60s and 70s, things were different, and it was all about cheap food policy and utilising materials and nutrient value. I am referring to poultry litter now," Mr Evans said.

Mr Döring agreed. Neither human nor animal excrement was an acceptable source of food for livestock . But he conceded that it might still be possible in businesses where feed was mixed on the farm. Wheat straw is a high fibre diet of low food value: if treated with ammonia, however, the fibres break down to produce protein and carbohydrates.


27 Oct 99 - CJD - Chicken feed call to help pig farmers

By Valerie Elliott

Times ... Wednesday 27 October 1999


The crisis for pig farmers is so acute that Nick Brown, the Agriculture Minister, is seeking scientific advice on whether it would be safe to allow meat and bonemeal from pigs to be used as chicken feed .

Mr Brown disclosed yesterday that he had asked the Government's expert committee on BSE, the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), to consider lifting the ban on meat and bonemeal from porcine products in poultry feed . He made clear, however, that the feed would not be used for pigfeed and would not be recycled in the same species.

The aim is to help pig farmers who once received a good price for offal. Today pig farmers have to pay slaughterhouses £5.26 to dispose of pig remains.

The use of meat and bonemeal in animal feed for all livestock and horse-feed was banned in Britain in 1996. The European Union has banned its use for cattle and sheep feed, but continues to allow it for pigs and poultry .

(Editors Comment: note that meat and bonemeal is still permitted as a fertiliser for crops for human consumption in the UK, despite being banned for crops grown for livestock and horses. Much of the food grown in the UK for humans is therefore unfit for animal consumption, but then MAFF always has thought that cows are more important than people. Maybe French food, dung and all, is a still better bet than UK food......)

Much of the pork and chicken imported to Britain comes from animals fed on meat and bonemeal .

Don Curry, chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission, said that he believed SEAC would have to be convinced that the use of such feed for chickens "had no loopholes".

Such feed would be banned from mixed farms for fear that it might re-enter cattle or sheep feed.


27 Oct 99 - CJD - 'mad cow' spot checks are few and far between in France

From Adam Sage In La Croixille

Times ... Wednesday 27 October 1999


The head of a public veterinary service charged with eradicating BSE in a French cattle-grazing area said yesterday that his inspectors had checked just 28 out of 700,000 cows for the disease this decade .

Alain Charon, director of the veterinary service in the Mayenne département, western France, said that five tests had proved positive , the fifth a week ago. His admission will fuel suspicion that the prevalence of "mad cow" disease in France may be greater than statistics indicate . According to French Ministry of Agriculture figures, last week's case was the seventy-first since 1990, and the twenty-second since January 1. French Government ministers compare these statistics with Britain, where more than 1,000 cows have been diagnosed with BSE so far this year (Editors Note: MAFF recently quoted about 1500 cases this year so far and expect 2000 for the year).

But British cattle farms are the subject of regular spot checks by officials charged with detecting mad cow disease. In France there is no such system. M Charon said that he did not have the resources to conduct impromptu visits. Instead, French county veterinary services intervene when alerted by local vets to a possible case of BSE.

"Vets in France have a statutory duty to tell us of all such cases," said M Charon. "In addition, Ministry of Agriculture inspectors are present at abattoirs. Our method is coherent and efficient."

In theory, he may be right. On the ground, however, the procedure appears to move slowly.

The vet used by Sylvain and Rosie De La Celle, who own a farm in the neighbouring Maine-et-Loire region, took six months to discover that one of their 165-strong herd of cattle had BSE this year.

"The cow became aggressive, limped and lost a lot of weight," said Mme De La Celle. "But it did not turn round and round and we just did not think that it could be mad cow disease. We called upon our vet right at the beginning. He realised what it was in the week the cow died ."

M and Mme De La Celle's entire herd was destroyed earlier this month. Although they have been given compensation, Mme De La Celle said the psychological blow was "very, very hard".

She said: "It takes a lot of courage to start again after losing all your cattle... I know someone who died from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and I believe that the policy of maximum security is justified."

Yet, this policy depends upon what M Charon described as farmers' "sense of responsibility" and it is by no means certain that all share Mme De La Celle's integrity.

As French farms stand to lose all their cattle by reporting cases of BSE, there is a temptation to kill and bury suspect cows and say nothing about it .

"There are always ways of arranging things like that," said Dominique Rota, a resident in the hamlet of La Rocherie in the Mayenne. "I know that goes on ."

In the village of La Croixille, only the mayor, Clément Georget, admitted to knowing that the most recent case of BSE in France had been on one of the surrounding farms.

He said: "mad cow disease is never discussed in village council meetings even though several councillors are farmers. I suppose they must be worried, but they do not talk about it."