CAMPAIGNS: Weekly Web Watch - Sites should beef up BSE coverage

Organisation: French Ministry of Agriculture

Issue: French beef

At: www.agriculture.gouv.fr

In an interesting twist of fate, it looks like the French farming industry is on the verge of suffering a British ban on its beef, believed to be infected with BSE. As the French government announced it had banned meat and bonemeal in livestock feed, and pressure was building to establish a single EU policy to restore confidence in European beef, scientific experts were meeting in Brussels to discuss the latest outbreaks of mad cow disease.

The French government is apparently becoming aware that more people than just French speakers now have a passing interest in its vaches follies, and is in the process of constructing an English version of the agriculture ministry's 'esb info' site.

In the meantime, the French site has news in the form of press releases, answers to frequently asked questions (very brief), general information about the bovine disease, and an archive of government documents.

There is no forum for discussion and, unsurprisingly, if you are in the mood for a bit of mad cow hysteria, this isn't the site for you.

Mind you, the same applies to Britain's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's BSE site (www.maff.-gov.uk/animalh/bse). It's all very official and scientific and the Europe section, which is purportedly about the effects of BSE on the rest of Europe and Europe's response is merely a brief section on the ban on British beef. It hasn't been updated for over a month and there is no mention of potential problems with French beef. Very diplomatic, but not terribly useful.

Otherwise, French beef conspiracy theories and militant rantings seem to be in short supply on the internet - it seems as though BSE fatigue has set in with consumers, even though the full report of the BSE Inquiry (www.bse.org.uk) was only released on 26 October.

A good source is www. mad-cow.org, an archive of news stories from various reputable sources, which is tracking every development in France.

The BBC, as ever, has good coverage of the developing French crisis on its news site, but its usually reliable links to related organisations fall a bit short on this occasion.

The British Meat and Livestock Commission (www.-meatmatters.co.uk) is the biggest shock, as you go from terribly serious BBC news to a very jolly site which 'celebrates British meat' and flags up Christmas celebrity recipes. The only mention of BSE is in its press release archive.

The site isn't to be confused with www.britishmeat.com, a rather unpleasant anti-meat protest site featuring butchers with bloody aprons.





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