7 June 1996

Beef derivatives ban lifted

By Shelley Wright

THE ban on exports of British tallow, semen and gelatine has been lifted, despite the failure of EU farm ministers to agree the measure this week.

At the council of ministers meeting in Luxembourg, member states voted 9:6 in favour of lifting the derivatives ban. But lack of a qualified majority meant the proposal was not ratified. Respons-ibility for action was then transferred to the EU commission, which agreed on Wednesday that the ban should be lifted.

But it will take some weeks for exports to resume because all tallow and gelatine plants will first have to be licensed by the UK government and then be inspected by commission officials.

Despite six countries voting against lifting the ban, farm minister, Douglas Hogg, said that an important step forward had been made. The UK had gained the support of Spain for the first time and he was delighted the commission would now lift the ban.

Ben Gill, NFU vice-president, insisted Britain was now winning the argument. "Not so long ago all 14 other member states were voting against us and now we have eight supporting the UK," he said.

And Tom Brady, chief executive of the Scottish NFU, supported the "welcome signal that there has been significant political change with eight other countries joining the UK and accepting its plans and measures to control BSE and protect consumers".

During the talks the commission attempted to swing more countries behind the proposal by offering to limit semen exports to bulls from BSE- free dams. But the six countries – Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium and Luxembourg – refused to move, citing public health fears and the UKs inability to offer adequate traceability of cattle.

Mr Hogg presented ministers with a detailed document of the UKs programme to eradicate BSE. It included all the legislation introduced since 1988 and future measures the UK was considering, including the selective slaughter of 80,000 cattle.

But Mr Hogg stressed that this measure would have to be agreed by the UK parliament and it seems unlikely that any cull will be introduced in the immediate future.

Mr Hogg and foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, began a tour of EU capital cities this week to try to establish a framework for the progressive lifting of the beef ban. The 80,000 selective cull is likely to be used as a bargaining chip in these discussions. Until a framework was established the governments policy of non-co-operation in Europe would continue, Mr Hogg insisted.

But the framework would not include a timetable. Mr Hogg told farmers weekly: "A variety of steps will be discussed like progressively removing the bans on calves and certified specialist herds. And we will also seek to resume beef exports to third countries. It is a matter for negotiation which of these is likely to secure support but I imagine exports to third countries, and calf exports, could be the first to be agreed."

lThe Commission has accepted MAFFs request to allow calves up to 20 days old to be slaughtered under the calf processing scheme. Previously only calves under 10 days old were eligible. &#42