Brazilian beef is back in the spotlight as European veterinary experts sieve evidence gathered on mission last month.

Political pressure for a ban is mounting after EU farm lobby groups renewed calls for a level playing field on food safety. Irish agriculture minister, Mary Coughlan, is leading the charge with an attack on what she branded "lower standard" imports.

Speaking last weekend at the opening of a national livestock show, she referred to recent Brazil inspection reports by the EU food and veterinary office that uncovered the use of feed additives banned in the

EU, an inadequate residue-testing system, poor record-keeping on veterinary medicines and a tagging system that is less stringent than in Europe.

"Yet Brazil continues to export significant quantities of beef to Europe. It is totally unrealistic to expect Irish and other EU producers to labour under very tight regulations when imported product is not subject to equivalent controls." Coughlan promised to raise the issue with ministers at the next EU farm council. "Too many of my colleagues in Europe want to import cheap meat," she said. "But Irish producers and consumers deserve fair play and I am determined they will get it."

She rejected charges of protectionism as Irish and EU beef producers stood to gain from restrictions forcing up domestic prices.

Beef industry figures in the UK predicted that the Commission may find it easier to take a strong line on Brazil because of the

failure of world trade talks. A spokesman for the European Commission in Dublin hinted at sanctions. The full report is due next month, but it is said to be critical of the current situation in Brazil.

But a ban would be disastrous for the food processing sector, which relies heavily on imports from South America. The solution may lie in plans by Assured British Meat to set up a fully transparent international standard to tackle the perceived problems of the current EurepGap system.