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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Britain Begins Beef-Ban Fight

LUXEMBOURG -- Britain, playing down expectations of an early breakthrough, started a long fight Monday to persuade reluctant European Union farm ministers to support easing a worldwide ban on British beef exports.

British Agriculture Minister Douglas Hogg was due to present detailed proposals for tracing and slaughtering 42,000 animals most at risk from mad cow disease and to outline a series of measures taken this month to eradicate the fatal infection.

"This is not the forum in which a decision will be taken to relax the ban but I hope we will start the process which will make that possible," Hogg told reporters before the meeting.

At best, the ministers will only give the process a political nudge. A formal decision would only be taken by the European Commission acting on the advice of the EU's Standing Veterinary Committee of senior member-state officials meeting May 7 to May 8.

The commission imposed the ban March 27 to try to restore consumer confidence and revive the beef market after the British government spread panic by admitting mad cow disease could spread to humans.

The ban was expected to overshadow a meeting between Britain's Prime Minister John Major and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in London on Monday.

German officials said on the eve of the regular semi-annual summit that Kohl was likely to reject Major's demand for an early lifting of the EU ban.

German Farm Minister Jochen Borchert, describing German beef consumption as catastrophically low, called in Luxembourg for convincing British measures before easing the ban.

"We need measures that make sure that consumers can rely on the safety and quality of beef ... only after that can we think about relaxing the ban," Borchert told reporters.

Britain, which says the ban is unjustified and disproportionate, has stressed that further measures to stamp out mad cow disease must be linked to lifting the ban.

"I could only proceed if the measures were set in a very clear framework for a progressive, early and rapid lifting of all restrictions on exports," Hogg said in a letter to Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler and EU farm ministers last week.

"I must emphasize the key importance of moving forward on the two issues: selective cull and lifting the export ban together," he added.

British officials say the risk is minimal with less than a one-in-a-million chance of catching Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease, the human form of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, which has declined sharply since peaking in 1992.