LONDON (CNNfn) - France refused again Tuesday to bow to European Union pressure to lift a three-year ban on British beef, reiterating its position after the EU ordered the nation to come up with new scientific evidence justifying its decision -- or face legal action within a week.
The minister, Jean Glavany, told Reuters in an interview that he doesn't see the French government "taking the opposite position to the one it took a few days ago without new scientific facts."
Glavany was referring to a French decision Friday to keep the British beef ban in place despite a previous ruling by the European Commission -- which legislates policy on behalf of the 15-nation EU -- to lift the ban three and a half years after it was imposed at the height of the "mad cow disease" crisis.
The EU decision, taken in July at the behest of its scientific advisers, went into effect Aug. 1.
But France, citing a study by its own experts, refused to heed the order, prompting a collective cheer from French consumer groups and outrage from British farmers hit hard by the beef scandal.
The French report, published Friday by the French Health and Food Safety Agency (AFSSA), concluded that while the incidence of "mad cow" disease in Britain had declined considerably in recent years, it was premature to rule out further outbreaks.
"The group of experts," the AFSSA report said, "concluded that given the scientific knowledge and epidemiological data it currently possesses, the risk of the U.K. exporting contaminated beef cannot be considered to have been brought totally under control."
Glavany said Tuesday his government was looking for a way to allow British beef to be transported through France, without permitting its sale in France.
But such a resolution would clearly be at odds with the EU lifting of the ban, which requires all member states to permit the resumption of British beef sales on their markets.
EC spokeswoman Thea Emmerling told reporters in Brussels Tuesday that the Commission had set a deadline of Oct. 8 for France to provide new information justifying its decision to maintain the ban.
Otherwise, commission officials said, they would initiate legal proceedings against France within a week.
The lifting of the beef ban is a boon to British beef farmers, who have lost around $2.3 billion in business since the export prohibition was imposed from Brussels. In 1995, the year prior to the ban, British beef exports totaled around $1.2 billion a year.
Britain imposed the ban in March 1996 amid concerns that contaminated cow meat was responsible for an often fatal brain disorder in humans known as Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease.
--from staff and wire reports