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Farm & Country: France must pay for unlawful ban.

Byline: Andrew Forgrave

FRANCE must not be allowed to go unpunished for years of evasion and prevarication over its illegal ban on British beef, UK farmers have insisted.

Last night, the French government lifted its ban on imports after advice from its Food Standards Agency that British beef was now safe.

But farm unions in Britain immediately called on the EC not to drop legal action against France to prevent future breaches of its rulings.

Many producers this side of the Channel believe the French ban was a cynical act of protectionism which is now only being lifted now that a European Court of Justice fine of pounds 100,000-a-day is close to being implemented.

The EC yesterday said it would now ``consider the details before deciding whether or not to withdraw the request to the ECJ to fine France''.

NFU president Ben Gill said: ``The EC must not let the matter drop now that the French have lifted the ban. The EC must be able to take rapid punitive action in the future.

``It is unacceptable that such a clearly illegal ban has been able to be imposed for this length of time. It is equally unacceptable that the French can walk away from this disgraceful situation at the last possible moment before fines are imposed.''

France was the only country that continued to block imports of British beef following the lifting of the BSE ban in August 1999.

The illegal embargo has resulted in the NFU taking action in the French courts for damages. The case was referred to the ECJ where a ruling is due later this month.

France was the biggest market for British beef before the BSE ban, accounting for half of all exports to the EU. Welsh beef will be marketed at the SIAL food show, Paris, on October 20-24 in a bid to recapture lost markets.

Bob Parry, president of the Farmers' Union of Wales, added: ``There is a danger that the EU may decide not to pursue the fine against the French government now that they have lifted the ban. I believe that would be a grave mistake.

``It is important that the rule of law is maintained, and that France is made to pay for the contemptuous way they have dealt with British farmers.''

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HARD LINE: Ben Gill
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Oct 3, 2002
Words:389
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