EU says may still ban Brazil meat over health concerns

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BRUSSELS, Oct 9 (Reuters) The European Union may resort to a ban on Brazilian meat imports if the South American agricultural giant does not improve food safety standards, the EU's health chief said today.

''We do identify weaknesses in Brazil and we have put pressure on Brazil to respond,'' European Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou told members of the European Parliament.

''If the situation does not improve in the timeframe, which is by the end of the year, we will take whatever measures necessary, including the possibility of a ban,'' he said, reiterating a previous warning of tough action.

EU experts will travel to Brazil next month to carry out an assessment to see if Brazil has complied with Brussels' request.

European farm groups, most notably Irish and British farmers, have been pressing the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to get tough with their competitors in Brazil for what they say are substandard conditions.

Kyprianou today said he would not hesitate ''to take any measures necessary, no matter how it affects trade, if it affects the health of EU citizens''.

The Brazilian government and the country's farming industry deny the claims of use of illegal growth hormones and say Brazil is implementing the recommendations of EU animal health officials who visited the country in March.

Following a heated discussion in July, most of the European Parliament's agriculture committee backed their calls for a ban on meat imports from the world's biggest beef exporter.

The lawmakers' decision was based on a report by Irish and British farmers which claimed that Brazilian ranchers did not meet the kind of standards required for EU farmers.

While accepting there are failures by Brazil, Kyprianou dismissed the claims of Irish farmers, who he said were acting ''in self-interest''.

NEW REPORT Irish farmers have long been protected by high import tariffs, as well as EU subsidies, and they say a deal at the World Trade Organisation could cost them 2 billion euros a year in lost exports.

A number of MEPs, including British Conservative Neil Parish -- chairman of the assembly's agriculture committee -- and the Scottish National Party's Alyn Smith again called for an immediate ban on Brazilian beef imports.

''How long is Kyprianou going to wait and see if Brazil reacts? Meanwhile European consumers continue to eat meat which could be harmful,'' said MEP Liam Aylward, a member of Ireland's ruling Fianna Fail Party.

Kyprianou said: ''We don't accept the conclusions of the Irish farmers' report. We have to give Brazil time, you cannot jump the gun by rushing into a ban.'' Angered by the EU health chief's response, the Irish farmers Association (IFA) carried out a second independent assessment submitted to Kyprianou on Thursday.

''The EU Commission's assessment of the risks involved in the importation of Brazilian beef is flawed and inadequate,'' the report obtained by Reuters said.

''From a consideration...it is likely that an 'unknown' proportion of the cattle that are presented at EU approved abattoirs in Brazil may have FMD virus in a 'silent' form.'' REUTERS SG VC1732

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