Europe softens British beef ban in 'mad cow' scare But London will continue blocking EU measures

June 06, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- The European Union partly lifted a ban on British beef yesterday, but the action failed to defuse Britain's "mad cow" war against its closest trading partners.

European Commission President Jacques Santer told community leaders in Brussels, Belgium, that he hoped the action would lead Britain to abandon its policy of blocking all measures before EU bodies in protest of the ban. But the government of Prime Minister John Major indicated that the British offensive would continue until a full lifting of the export prohibitions.

British delegates have vetoed about 40 EU measures in the past 10 days. Most involved cooperative ventures that Britain openly backed before the beef war, which was sparked by suspicions -- not proven -- that the disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy (called "mad cow disease") in British cattle may be linked to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a fatal human brain illness.

Meeting in Brussels yesterday, the 20-member European Commission voted to allow the export of bull semen and beef derivatives tallow and gelatin. Exporting companies will have to adhere to tight EU guidelines.

"The commission decision is fully and exclusively based on scientific data, guaranteeing public health," Santer told the European Parliament.

He also said Britain's obstruction policy violated "both the letter and spirit of the [EU] treaty."

"The policy does not help Britain's interests," he told a news conference. "I am not seeking an unconditional surrender from anyone. This is not war. Fairness is a British concept and therefore I am sure the U.K. government will cooperate."

Yesterday's commission vote followed a 9-6 decision Monday by EU agriculture ministers to relax the prohibition. Opposition from Germany, Austria, Portugal, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Belgium forced the vote.

Technically, exports may resume next week, but EU officials said it would take much longer. German Health Minister Horst Seehofeer said Tuesday that Germany would maintain its ban at least until the fall, although under EU regulations it cannot block a German company from buying derivatives once exports resume.

Britain presented European ministers with a 121-page document this week detailing its plans to eradicate BSE, including promises to keep highest-risk cattle out of the food chain until well into the 21st century.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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