The French food security agency has recommended an end to France's six-year embargo on British beef. France is the only European Union country maintaining the 1996 ban, imposed after an outbreak of mad cow disease in Britain.
Michel Hirsch, the director of France's food security agency, told reporters, eating British beef today is no riskier than eating French beef.
Mr. Hirsch said Britain's mad-cow prevention controls are now as rigorous as those in France. Three years ago, he made the opposite judgment.
European Union countries adopted tough screening and other requirements for beef in 1996, after an outbreak of mad cow disease in British cattle spread across the continent. The disease is formally known as BSE. Humans can contract a rare human variant, if they eat beef tainted with the disease.
But in 1999, an EU scientific committee declared British beef safe for consumption. Only France continued the embargo, after the French food agency advised against lifting the ban. The decision sparked anger in London. And in July, the European Commission threatened to fine the French government more than $150,000 for each day it kept the ban in place.
Richard Morgan, spokesman for the British Embassy in Paris, said he was pleased the French food agency no longer objects to British beef imports. "Obviously, we're going to look at the report in detail," he said. "But, the general steer in the conclusions, we would welcome, and look forward to the government's decision in the near future."
A French ministerial committee is expected to rule on the issue within 10 days. In the past, the government has always followed the recommendations of the food security agency.