The Government made a U-turn yesterday by announcing an immediate ban on imports of British beef. Director of Health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, who said on Wednesday that a ban was not necessary, yesterday explained that the move was aimed at restoring public confidence in the local beef market. But some industry representatives questioned the move's effectiveness, because retailers and restaurants could continue selling existing stocks. Though no fresh British beef is sold in markets, frozen UK beef is available in stores, from restaurants and in products such as pies and sausages. The Trade Department told local meat traders not to sell their stocks of frozen beef to wholesalers or retailers following the European Commission's ruling on Wednesday prohibiting UK exports. Traders who sell their estimated 20,000 kg of British beef stocks face $50,000 fines and a year in jail. Local applications to import British beef will also be stopped. On Wednesday, Dr Chan said a ban was unnecessary since there was no scientific evidence linking bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) to Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, which affects humans. 'The decision the Government made today isn't based on health considerations but for the sake of public confidence,' she said yesterday. Consumers could identify the origins of beef products in stores from the labels and question the origins of beef served to them in restaurants, said acting deputy director-general of trade Emma Lau Yin-wah. Several shops have removed British beef products from sale. They account for less than three per cent of frozen beef sold in Hong Kong. Most is from the United States, Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. But the former vice-chairman of the Hotel Catering and Institutional Management Association, Jonathan Knight, said the ban 'seemed the wrong way around'. He said removal of meat at the retail end of the chain made more sense since older meat was more suspect. Municipal councillors have criticised the Government for delaying a ban so as not to upset its rulers in London. Meanwhile, beef sellers have already reported a 30 to 40 per cent drop in business. Hong Kong Livestock Industry Association chairman So Ying-yiu welcomed the move, but said the Government should also restrict pig imports as they might also be able to spread BSE.