SIRC – Media Watch 15-11-99

Lost in translation?

Recent articles in Le Monde indicate that the arguments used by the French to support a continued ban on British beef are exactly the same as those used by the British government to defend its own refusal to lift the beef-on-the-bone ban.

A French minister is quoted as declaring:

"Alors qu'il y a un danger potentiel, les pouviors publics ne peuvent pas laisser les consommateurs choisir."

Loosely translated, this is the now familiar mantra that if there is the slightest possibility of a minuscule or even totally unproven risk, consumers should not be allowed to make an informed choice – otherwise known as the 'precautionary principle'(PP). SIRC has expressed concern about the dangers of the PP in other contexts (See Beware the Precautionary Principle), but for the British government, the main problem seems to be a language barrier: the 'precautionary principle' can legitimately be applied to beef-on-the-bone, but the 'principe de précaution' cannot, it seems, be invoked against British exports.

Le Monde accurately describes the whole beef 'affaire' as more a matter of politics and psychology than science.