31 May 1996

Anglo-German accord sought by Euro-MPs

By Tony McDougal

TORY Euro-MPs have set up an Anglo-German BSE working party in a bid to examine policies to speed up eradication of the disease and restore consumer confidence in German-speaking markets.

Lord Plumb, Conservative group leader in Brussels, said the working party had been set up following the failure of the European standing veterinary committee to back the Commissions proposals to lift the derivative ban.

He has been appalled by the lack of German knowledge over British measures taken over the past ten weeks. "They had no idea that we had slaughtered 27,000 cattle through the 30-month disposal scheme or 11,000 calves," he added.

Lord Plumb has invited farm minister Douglas Hogg and/or foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind to address the European Parliament in Brussels prior to a BSE-debate on June 6. If accepted, it would be the first time a minister has talked to the Parliament since the crisis broke on Mar 20.

Robert Sturdy, Conservative MEP farm spokesman, stressed the setting up of the Anglo-German working party did not fly in the face of UK government policy. "We would look like to see an independent body to oversee the implementation of the slaughter policy and help restore consumer confidence.

One in 10 culls

"We would like to see one in every 10 animals culled under the disposal scheme checked for BSE to see whether the policy is working."

Dr Caroline Jackson (Con, Wilts N and Bath) urged the Commission to launch a European beef quality assurance scheme across the 15 member states. The scheme, which could be based on MAFFs mature beef scheme, would assure consumers that beef marketed under a Commission-approved label had never been fed contaminated feed and not been in contact with BSE-infected animals.

"The current BSE crisis is a Europe-wide problem. Consumer confidence will only be restored if member states work together under the guidance of the European Commission to promote European beef as safe to eat."

Labour MEPs were sceptical of the non-cooperation tactics imposed by Mr Major. David Hallam, Labours Euro-farm spokesman, said the goodwill shown by member states during the first fortnight of the crisis had been lost.

The xenophobic language among the British media was also criticised by the Conservative Chief Whip in Brussels, James Provan, who said irresponsible language had made the task of lifting the beef export ban harder to achieve. "It is utterly self-defeating. Blind prejudice must play no part in todays politics, whatever party one supports. To encourage nationalism and xenophobia is dangerous and extreme."