It was no surprise when BSE this week became the central issue in the opening rounds of the General Election campaign. Despite encouraging signs in the shops and, later, in Brussels, the beef market is still in disarray and farmers face ruin. It was also hardly a shock when the Euro sceptics revved up their bandwagon and joined the debate. But pity the poor food minister. With the rallying cries from backbenchers ringing in his ears - not to mention Opposition calls for a much tougher line with the Europeans - the hapless Hogg made another mission across the Channel on Monday to persuade our partners that the whole of the worldwide export ban should be lifted. The minister's anxious army of critics point out that Chancellor Kohl ate British beef in Downing Street last week and even Farm Commissioner Fischler said he would carve himself a slice were he to visit the UK. So, they argue, with threats of a trade war in the Whitehall wind it should not be difficult to pressure EU states into reversing the entire ban on beef and beef products. One industry figure has urged Hogg to remember the far-off days when the then MAFF minister, the late John Silkin, defied Brussels on countless occasions, making him the darling of the anti-European lobby back home. But what the protestor forgot is that the Community playing field, to quote the trade's oft-used cliche, has been transformed since those heady days in the seventies. In 1978 we were relative newcomers to the Euro Club, long before the inextricable links with the nineties integrated market. Thus retaliation in 1996 would effectively mean rejecting the principles of the Common Market. Neither the resulting complicated process, nor a lengthy legal action on the issue, would bring an early end to the blockade. The most likely outcome, as the signs suggested on Thursday, is a step by step elimination of the worldwide ban, probably starting with gelatine and tallow. But a week can be a long time in the EU. Before that Hogg must don his brown fedora and head for Brussels to rebuild confidence among our European partners by convincing them that he has a scientific system for combating BSE.