THE ENGLISH beef industry must make a concerted effort over the coming few months to turn the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommendation on moderate rate BSE status into the reality of a worthwhile resumption in bone-in beef exports, stresses the English Beef and Lamb Executive (EBLEX).
And it should do everything possible to ensure this is tied-in with the change in the Over Thirty Month (OTM) rule.
The EFSA Biohazards Committee‘s support for the robust case made by DEFRA to consider the cattle population born after Aug 1, 1996 in the UK, as the same moderate BSE risk as the rest of Europe from the second half of 2004 was an excellent start on the road to resuming beef exports in a meaningful way.
But there are a number of major hurdles to be overcome before exports of bone-in beef can actually be resumed.
First the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) has to present a favourable report on its wide-ranging spring inspection of the UK supply chain to the Standing Committee on Food Chain and Animal Health.
Then the EU Commission has to draft legislation for approval by this Committee. And finally the Commission proposals may need the formal agreement by qualified majority of the 25 agricultural ministers in full Council.
This process makes it highly unlikely that legislation to allow normal beef exports to resume can be enacted before the beginning of 2005.
Encouragingly, this could now coincide with a UK Government decision to accept our own Food Standards Agency recommendation for a change in the OTM rules.
Making the change on a similar timescale to – or possibly slightly later than – the wider beef export move would do much to maintain the balance of supply and demand within the English beef market that could otherwise be disrupted by large amounts of beef from older animals becoming available.
As well as working closely with politicians in Westminster and Brussels to meet early 2005 schedules in both respects, the beef industry needs to gear itself up on the processing and marketing side over the coming six months to implement the necessary BSE testing protocols and make the most of the export opportunities as efficiently as possible.
EBLEX feedback from recent European trade exhibitions indicates considerable interest in English beef across the continent.
The fact that beef production in France and Germany, in particular, is continuing to fall also bodes well for a stable and firm EU and UK market, even with the extra supplies of some 175,000 tonnes/year estimated by the Meat and Livestock Commission following the OTM rule change.