19 July 2002

Beef exports get boost

By Philip ClarkeEurope editor

EXPORT prospects for British beef received two significant boosts on Wed, Jul 17, with news that Brussels is to relax the rules of the date-based export scheme (DBES) and is also pursuing fines against France of over £100,000/day for its illegal ban on British beef.

The first of these means that British abattoirs will be allowed to dedicate to the DBES for just a few hours a day, rather than producing exclusively for export, as has been the rule up to now.

In effect, they will be able to kill cattle under DBES in the morning, clear the lines and store the meat separately, then carry on slaughtering for the domestic market for the rest of the day.

"This will make the whole prospect much more attractive," said Meat and Livestock Commission export manager, Peter Hardwick. "When DBES first started, only two plants were willing to give it a go, because of the restrictions. But, when we did a questionnaire in 2000 on how many firms would be interested if they could time dedicate, seven or eight said they would go for it."

Mr Hardwick warned that markets would not be any easier to break into, though he saw opportunities for quality beef to get back into the Benelux countries and Italy, where inroads were already being made before foot-and-mouth closed them off last year.

John Dracup, procurement manager for St Merryn Meat, confirmed his companys intention to start exporting beef "just as soon as we understand the rules and timetables". "Its a real reward for the efforts and investment the industry has put in to achieve a completely robust beef production system," he added.

According to a British government source in Brussels, the intention is to introduce the changes from Aug 1, 2002, once the decision has been rubber stamped by the full commission. The amendments also mean that pink veal from animals between six-months and nine-months old may now be exported bone-in, and the trade in cattle ova and embryos may also resume.

The decision came on the same day EU commissioners agreed to apply to the European Court for a daily fine of k158,250 (£101,280) against France.

"That figure is based on the length of the breach, the seriousness of the offence and the ability of the country to pay," said commission spokeswoman, Beate Gminder. "We have also asked for the process to be fast-tracked, though that is for the court to decide. If it is, a final ruling could be expected in a few months time, if not, it could take the full 18 months."

The fine will only apply from the day of that ruling, and could not be backdated. And if France decides to lift the ban in the next few months, then the case will be dropped and it will not be penalised for its illegal actions. &#42