WASHINGTON (DTN)--France will make sure that it protects consumers as it decides how to respond to a ruling by the EU's top court that it is breaking EU law by banning British beef, farm minister Jean Glavany said Dec. 14, according to Reuters.

The minister also renewed his criticism over the safety of British beef, a day after the European Court of Justice ruled that France was acting illegally by continuing to ban the meat because of fears it still poses a risk of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy.

The Luxembourg-based court on Dec. 13 issued its final ruling in the two- year-old case, putting new pressure on Paris to drop its unilateral ban or face the prospect of hefty fines.

Glavany, speaking in an interview on France's Europe 1 radio, said the government would carefully examine the ruling but that precaution would remain its guiding principle.

In doing so, Glavany again evoked the precautionary principle--a policy France has championed that allows curbs on products that are a source of worry even if they are not scientifically proven harmful.

France has used the principle to justify everything from its original refusal to lift the ban on British beef to destroying hundreds of hectares of French crops sown with seed containing traces of banned genetically modified material.

"The decision we are going to take will only be based on the precautionary principle, which has always been our guiding principle. In other words, we will take our decision in view of the needed protection of French consumers," he said.

The minister said a lack of information about British beef made it difficult to gauge how safe it was.

"The information we have on the (BSE) epidemic in Britain is dispatched only sparingly," Glavany said when asked if beef from across the Channel was safe.

Glavany noted that of the 15 EU member states, only Britain was not systematically performing mad cow disease tests on cattle aged at least 30 months before they enter the food chain.

"Everybody does it apart from Britain, so we know little about the state of the epidemic in Britain," he said.

The European Union banned British beef exports in 1996 after Britain linked mad cow disease, widespread in the country, to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease which has so far killed about 100 people, mostly in the UK but also in France.

After Britain acted to control mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the Commission rescinded the ban in 1999. France refused to comply, citing health concerns, and the Commission sued the country to force it to respect EU law.

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