According to a newspaper article in The Times, a letter sent from Agriculture minister Nick Brown to Prime Minister Tony Blair has revealed that there is no way to ensure that French beef infected with BSE is not reaching the dinner plates of British consumers. “Diplomatic niceties,” wrote Brown, should be ignored in favour of immediate bans on beef imports from France, where over 100 cattle have now been diagnosed with the disease.

Blair allegedly turned to Brown, the Food Standards Authority and government scientists for advice on how to react to the current scare in France, but the ministry has refused to comment on the article or the ministerial correspondence. Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo demanded, “Tony Blair must act now to protect British consumers” however, undermining the recent government assurances that there are “no health reasons” to ban French beef imports.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers’ Union, is urging caution amid fears that the concern over French beef will have a negative knock on effect for the industry throughout the EU. He stressed that “the French are now following proper procedures” and that Brown’s warning was basically a call for precautionary planning should laws be abused.

After over 80 vCJD deaths, the importation issue elicits huge feeling in Britain, however, and relatives of victims are currently suing the government for knowingly importing beef that carried a chance of contamination. In the UK now, it is illegal to sell domestically reared beef over the age of 30 months for human consumption, but older animals reared abroad are still being imported.