Will Europe Dump the Beef Ban?

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LONDON: The European Commission appears to be backing off a surreptitious announcement Monday night that it would ban British beef from the 15-nation European Union. A formal decision, due Wednesday, could still go either way as popular fears of so-called Mad Cow Disease mount. Late Monday, the Commission's veterinary committee voted over British objections to ban meat and other products made from cattle. Soon after, Commission President Jacques Santer agreed to a request from Prime Minister John Major to reconsider the issue based on more scientific evidence. Tuesday, the Commission said its decision had not been final, and it promised a hard answer within a day. All but two European Union countries have already banned British meat. Yet Stephen Dorrell, Britain's health secretary, insisted Tuesday that British beef remains "a safe product." He told BBC radio: "I agree with The Sun newspaper this morning which says it isn't the cows that are mad, it's the people that are going mad. Livelihoods are being threatened by gossip." On Monday, the British Parliament decided that no new action need be taken to curb the spread of the disease. The decision contradicted media predictions that the government would order the slaughter of the entire British herd to halt the spread of a bovine brain sickness that could potentially kill people who consume the diseased beef. TIME's Barry Hillenbrand reports that economists project that slaughtering the British cow herd would reduce the GDP by as much as 0.5 percent. "Economically, slaughtering the entire herd would be a disaster," says Hillenbrand. "Despite some very legitimate concerns, there is an air of panic to this situation."