LONDON (FWN)--The pace at which European Union beef demand is recovering, from the plunge at the start of the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy a year ago, has slowed to a crawl, according to European Commission data.

It showed total demand in the 15 EU countries is about 4.8% below what it termed normal levels for this time of year, compared with 5% below normal a month ago.

The marginal improvement in the recovery echoed concerns voiced in November by EU Commissioner of Agriculture Franz Fischler that the rebound was becoming sluggish.

The commission reiterated its previous forecast that EU beef demand for all of 2001 will be down around 10% from normal levels, taking into account the sharpness of the decline prior to the revival, but it broadened the range of the predicted drop to 9 to 11%.

Estimates made by Denmark, Greece and Spain showed beef demand is still about 10% below normal levels, in those three countries, according to the data.

It also showed beef demand in Finland, which confirmed its first mad cow case this month, was about 6% below normal, although demand in Austria, which also had its first case this month, has stayed at normal levels.

Separately, the EU reported that Egypt, a substantial beef importer, said it is ready to consider lifting a ban on imports of beef from France, Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands. The ban has covered all EU beef and is due to last until February, but Egypt said earlier it would reconsider it on a country-by-country basis, in light of their disease control measures.

Applications to export EU beef slowed in November to around 8,800 tonnes weekly, from a previous pace of 10,000 to 11,000 tonnes, the EU data also showed.

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