BRUSSELS: An entrenched British fear of catching "mad cow disease" from contaminated beef has spread to the continent and, as of Wednesday, put the European common market itself to the test. After several dormant years, the scare resurfaced in Fleet Street tabloids last fall when a British dairy farmer died of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, a fatal neurological condition that strongly resembles the far more common bovine affliction. Already, more than 20 countries outside western Europe have banned imports of British beef. But Wednesday, the European Union Commission drew the line after the German states of Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate followed suit, despite British and EU scientists' assurances that the beef is safe. The dispute now goes to the European Court of Justice. "This is riding mostly on emotion, but there's a commercial undercurrent," reports Brussels Bureau Chief Jay Branegan. "Britain allows this beef to be sold in Britain; at the same time, some continental beef producers would like to claim the British share of the market abroad. The EU, which must enforce free trade among its members, is now caught in the middle. Since this is also a complex public health struggle, it shows the problems that Europe faces in trying to unite its markets."