27 June 1997

All-Europe SRMban wont wash with members

By FWreporters

MOST EU member states still refuse to accept a Europe-wide ban on specified risk materials from cattle and sheep despite farm minister Jack Cunninghams threat of unilateral action on beef imports unless common standards are adopted by July 22.

The EU commission has proposed a ban on brain, eyes, spinal cord of cattle, sheep and goats over 12-months-old from human and animal consumption, as well as the spleens from all sheep and goats. But, despite support from the UK, Ireland, France, Holland and Sweden, the majority of member states continue to block the proposal. They insist that the ban is unnecessary because their countries do not have a high BSE risk.

The EUs standing veterinary committee rejected the proposal last week. And at this weeks farm ministers meeting in Luxembourg Dr Cunningham told his EU counterparts that if they did not agree to the controls their decision would be in total defiance of European and British scientific advice.

He stressed that other member states could not expect the UK to act on scientific advice and then ignore the advice themselves. That was not a basis for doing business. And he repeated his insistence that unless the EU adopted the controls by July 22 then he would take action to ensure all beef imports from Europe were subject to the same controls operated by UK abattoirs.

Franz Fischler, EU farm commissioner, urged member states to support the SRM ban. The standing veterinary committee is due to consider the proposal again at its July meeting. Mr Fischler said the ban was a reasonable price to pay to protect public health. He also asked the UK not to take unilateral action.

But Dr Cunningham maintained that without EU agreement by July 22 he would make it illegal to import any beef that still contained SRMs. There is still confusion, however, about how far the government is prepared to go.

Dr Cunningham said SRMs would have to be removed before beef was imported. But MAFF officials in London insisted that beef could still come into the country and have the SRMs removed here.

And junior farm minister, Jeff Rooker, told MPs this week that government had not sought advice on the legality of a ban on beef imports since there was no intention of introducing a ban.

&#8226 An EU conference next week will discuss whether all member states should follow the UKs lead and introduce a total ban on feeding meat and bonemeal to all farm livestock.