Anti-Europe feeling to the fore
LIB Dem leader Paddy Ashdown faced strong anti-Europe feeling at a BSE fact-finding meeting in Langport, Somerset, on Saturday.
Answering calls for a ban on imports of continental fruit, milk, cheeses, beef and breeding stock, Mr Ashdown said: "Britain needs an agricultural trade war with Europe like a hole in the head.
"If we hadnt been in Europe theyd have taken the same action banning our beef but would not have helped financially."
Baltonsborough farmers wife Sharon Dibble asked: "How can we reassure the public that beef is safe if we dont know where it is from?
"These other countries have BSE too but not the same safeguards as we have," she said.
Somerset and North Devon MEP Graham Watson agreed there were cases of BSE not being reported on the Continent "and probably some in this country too".
"We do need measures in place right across the Continent. But there are five million cattle farmers across Europe who are not very happy with the British government. They recognise that our farmers, consumers and meat industry have been damaged by governments ineptitude."
Mr Ashdown admitted measures to restore public confidence might involve differentiating between specialist beef and cull cow beef.
After hearing reports emphasising how the BSE crisis had hit the whole food chain he concluded that reassuring the public would be a long process involving:
• A culling policy to remove cattle which may have been exposed to BSE-contaminated feed from the food chain.
• A national quality assurance scheme.
• A target date for eradication of BSE from Britain.
• A reorganisation of MAFF to separate its responsibilities for food and agriculture. *
"Britain needs an agricultural trade war with Europe like a hole in the head."