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Beef crisis 'will swamp Europe' FROM LEYLA LINTON IN BRUSSELS
AGRICULTURE Minister Nick Brown today signalled he was ready to defy Europe by introducing a ban on French beef as experts warned a European epidemic of mad cow disease may be underway.
Under pressure from Tories, who warned that the French could flood Britain with "risky" meat, Mr Brown said he would act now and argue later if a ban was needed.
He said he was awaiting advice from the Food Standards Agency after concern at the rising incidence of BSE in France.
"If Sir John Krebs (chairman of the FSA) says new measures are needed, then we will do that now and then argue it in the European Union afterwards," he said.
The Conservatives claimed Mr Brown should stop hesitating and act today to stop increasing risks to British consumers.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Tim Yeo said: "The doubts about the safety of French beef are now so serious it is the only responsible action the Government can take."
He spoke out as Dr Stephen Dealer, whose research helped reveal the scale of the problem in Britain, said new discoveries of BSE in Germany showed how serious the problem was.
Mr Yeo said: "We are probably seeing the start of an epidemic in Europe and although it is impossible to predict its size, it will be bigger than we expect. Six European countries are already restricting French beef imports.
"There is a danger that as a result France will try to flood the remaining markets with risky beef, putting British consumers at greater risk and hurting the price of safe British beef. Other countries are waking up to how serious this problem is. They are going to be forced, four years after we were, to take the same sort of drastic action." Germany has joined calls for European-wide action to stop the spread of BSE after the discovery of its first cases of Mad Cow Disease. Brussels has already signalled that new EU-wide health protection measures are likely.
Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said he will press for "maximum control measures" at special talks on December 4.
The BSE discovery in Germany created something close to a national breakdown yesterday, with newspapers hitting out at a government which just days before insisted it could not cross their borders.
Butchers reported plunging beef sales amid calls for the resignation of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's farm and health ministers following news that at least two of the country's 15 million cows might be infected.
The Government and farm authorities were blasted for their "arrogant" claims that Germany was immune from BSE because of tighter controls.
Meanwhile, an art exhibition on BSE, which includes a picture of a cow dressed up like Napoleon, has opened in the French city of Lyon.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), November 27, 2000