Defra Secretary of State Margaret Beckett today welcomed the French Food Standards Agency's (AFSSA) report on the safety of British beef. The report said that British beef produced under the Date-based Export Scheme (DBES) presented no increased risk to French consumers.
She also welcomed the Government's assurance that it would reach a conclusion on whether the ban should be lifted within the next two weeks.
"We welcome the progress that is being made and expect the French Government to make a decision quickly. The only question we need answered now is when will be ban be lifted. This ban has been and continues to be illegal. British beef exports are amongst the safest in the world and this has been agreed by European experts."
The following notes are added:
1. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on 13 December 2001 that the ban was illegal. On 17 July 2002, the Commission stated that it would be referring the case back to the Court with a recommendation that it should impose substantial fines on the French Government for non-compliance with the ECJ ruling. The Commission asked the Court to impose a fine of 158,250 Euros (about £100,000) a day.
2. On 13 June 2002 the French Government asked AFSSA for an opinion on the relative safety of British beef as compared with other beef on the French market. Under French law the Government cannot amend legislation in respect of the ban on British beef - or any other food safety related matter - without first obtaining an opinion from AFSSA. The report will now be discussed by French Ministers.
3. AFSSA issued two previous opinions on British beef exported under the Date Based Export Scheme in 1999.
4. Exports of British beef under the Date-based Export Scheme are due to resume shortly following changes to the Scheme formally agreed in Brussels on 20 August in Commission Decision 2002/670/EC. These changes make it easier for companies to produce beef for export, as both DBES eligible and ineligible beef can be processed in approved establishments. Previously, establishments were required to handle only DBES eligible cattle and beef even for output destined for the domestic market.
5. Membership of the EU has been of great benefit to Britain throughout the BSE crisis. The EU has provided a dependable framework for the eradication of BSE, the introduction of safety measures and the resumption of exports. After the worldwide ban on British beef exports, other EU countries were the first to accept British beef, when EU scientists vouched for its safety. This satisfied all EU countries - except so far France.
6. EU institutions have worked for UK interests from the start. EU scientists gave British beef the all-clear and the European Commission upheld their verdict, taking steps against both Germany and France. The European Court of Justice has already given a ruling against France. The next step would be daily fines starting from the date of the Court's second Judgment.
7. Without this framework, Britain would have faced the task of convincing 14 different health authorities and governments to accept our beef bilaterally, without the support of the independent EU or ECJ. Nearly 100 other countries around the world still don't accept UK beef - including the US and Australia. As they are not in the EU, the UK doesn't have as much influence over them.
8. A chronology of the disease and the history of the ban is as follows: