Farm leaders have branded government plans for a full-scale consultation into the winding up of the date-based export scheme as “intolerable” and “utter madness”.

News of DEFRA’s intentions emerged at a stakeholder meeting in London late last week. It is understood that such a consultation would not be launched until after Brussels has issued its proposal to end DBES, or maybe not even until that proposal has been agreed by member states.

Such a consultation would typically involve 12 weeks of public deliberation followed by a further three weeks of internal consideration.

“It will be intolerable if a government consultation was to further delay the reopening of beef exports,” said Ulster Farmers’ Union president Campbell Tweed.

“After enduring almost 10 years of depressed prices because of the export ban, beef farmers would not tolerate any further delays, self-imposed by UK government bureaucracy.”

NFU Scotland vice-president David Mitchell, who was also at the meeting, urged DEFRA to fast-track any consultation. Failure to do so would mean the resumption of exports could be delayed until March.

“The industry has waited nearly a decade to see the back of export restrictions and doesn’t want to wait a minute longer than necessary,” he said.

DEFRA says no final decision has been taken about the consultation arrangements and insists it is still aiming to lift UK regulations banning exports at the same time as the EU ban is lifted.

The EU Commission is now expected to issue its proposal for winding up the DBES in October, rather than November. If a sufficient number of member states accept it, the DBES could be scrapped before the year end.

Member states will undoubtedly be influenced in their decision by a new report from the EU’s Food and Veterinary Office following their inspection of the UK’s BSE controls in June.

That report is due to be made public imminently, though insiders say they expect the findings to be favourable.

“I can see no reason why they should have a problem,” said Meat and Livestock Commission export manager, Peter Hardwick. “The UK now has a lower incidence of BSE per head of cattle than Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and Portugal.”

The European Food Safety Authority declared the UK as a “moderate risk” country some time ago, while Portugal is already allowed to trade its beef freely, he added.