6 November 1998

Beef export ban odds-on to be lifted within three weeks

later this

By Philip Clarke

EU PLANS to lift the UKs beef export ban now seem certain to win approval when farm ministers vote on them on Nov 23/24.

This week a majority of member states supported the date-based scheme when the standing veterinary committee voted on the issue in Brussels.

Only five out of the 15 countries – Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Austria – opposed it, while Luxembourg and the Netherlands abstained.

"On the assumption this pattern of voting is repeated in the farm council later this month, the commission will then be able to carry on with lifting the export ban," said an EU Commission official.

In fact, the proposal is likely to get more support when farm ministers vote on it. For a start, Austria, as council president, may feel obliged to at least abstain, rather than oppose.

Furthermore, this week the vets attempted to split the scheme into two parts, one dealing with the technical aspects and one with the timing.

But the commission refused. "We have always said the decision must be based on pure science, as spelt out in the Florence agreement," the spokesman said. "There is no scope for introducing a political decision on the timing."

More support?

Had the commission allowed the date to be dealt with separately, however, then Italy and France, and possibly Luxembourg and the Netherlands, would also have supported the scheme, under which de-boned beef from animals born after Aug 1, 1996, may be exported from the UK.

Farming bodies were quick off the mark in welcoming the vets decision. "It is now just a matter of time before top quality British beef is enjoyed across the world once again," said NFU president, Ben Gill.

But it will still take several weeks or months before exports can actually resume. A further commission inspection will be required once the council approves the scheme and the trade will have its work cut out to actually find customers for UK beef.

"It took Northern Ireland several months to resume its trade once the certified herd scheme was approved earlier this year," said Helen Judge of the Meat and Livestock Commissions Brussels office. "Even now, they are only shipping about one truck load a week," she added.