Agriculture ministers of the 15 EU countries have acted to halt the human consumption of beef from cattle aged over 30 months and to impose a six-month ban on meat and bonemeal in fodder in a drive to halt the spread of mad cow disease (BSE). The measures are the most drastic taken so far in the battle against BSE and follow indications that the disease is on the increase in France and has been detected in Germany and Spain. The bar on using ground animal remains in cattle feed, due to take effect in January, brings the EU into line with Britain where the practice has been banned since 1996. Ministers last night voted to approve it by 13 to 2 with Germany and Finland opposing. However they also agreed to allow the continued use of fishmeal in diets for pigs and poultry. The ban on 30-month old meat, which could mean the slaughter of seven million cattle, will cost the EU countries an estimated pounds 3.4 billion and the feed ban just over pounds one billion. The EU Commission said it would meet 70% of the costs. The package was welcomed by UK farm minister Nick Brown, who said that concerted action by the EU could increase the pressure on France to lift its illegal ban on UK beef.

 By Alan Osborn, correspondent