Agriculture minister Nick Brown defied EU law last night by announcing that he was happy to implement a ban on French beef at the end of this week, if concerns over the safety of the meat increase following the Food Standards Authority's (FSA) visit to France.

Officials from the FSA, which is headed up by Sir John Krebs, are travelling to France on Wednesday to discuss the safety of the beef and seek assurances that adequate precautionary measures are in place, before making recommendations to the British government on their return.

Brown has promised to act swiftly on these recommendations, which may include a partial or total ban: "If Sir John Krebs says new measures are needed, then we will do that now and then argue it in the EU afterwards. What everyone else is doing is to take action and then justify it later."

Tim Yeo, shadow agriculture minister, approved Brown's sentiments and reiterated the Conservatives' well-publicised stance by saying: "The doubts about the safety of French beef are now so serious it is the only responsible action the government can take."

It may not be the most diplomatic action however. The scale of French imports into Britain is technically minimal, and it is possible that this measure is a politically motivated retaliation. It may be that such a move would attempt to put pressure on the French government to cease its stubborn continuation of British meat bans, despite the fact that the EU cleared the meat in 1999.