Blair Warns Against French Trade War; 'Food Nationalism' Emerges

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says he will not lead the UK into an illegal trade war with France, but he nevertheless encouraged British shoppers this week to buy only British beef, pork, and lamb. In angry exchanges in the House of Commons Oct. 27, Blair said that it would be "suicidal for British commercial interests in Europe" to ban French products without the backing of the government's scientific advisers. Tensions between the UK and France are escalating as the two countries trade blows over food safety. In response to its own scientific advice, France has unilaterally refused to lift an earlier EU ban on British beef imports, while many UK consumers are now boycotting French products, especially after an EU report that some French farmers were feeding livestock with recycled human sewage. Blair told parliament Oct. 27 that it would be "stupid and irresponsible" to impose a "unilateral and unlawful trade ban." The prime minister warned that the UK conducted 100 billion pounds (US$165 billion) of trade with Europe, of which 10 billion pounds (US$16.5 billion) was in food and drink -- 1 billion pounds (US$1.65 billion) of that with France. This would be at risk during a trade war, Blair warned. However, Blair still adopted the language of food nationalism, saying "I hope British consumers buy British beef, British pork, and British products." He also refused to condemn UK agriculture minister Nick Brown, who has adopted his own personal boycott of French products. Attention now turns to a meeting of EU scientific advisers in Brussels, which will assess the scientific basis for the French ban. The EU Commission is expected to rule on the issue by the end of the weekend.

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