9 November 2001

British lamb thumbs-up

for Continental exports

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

BRITISH lamb will soon be on its way to Continental consumers – the first time any such business has been done since foot-and mouth struck last February.

European Union vets decided in Brussels on Tuesday (Nov 6) to allow exports from those counties that have had no cases of the disease this year. That means sheepmeat may be exported from most of Scotland (except Dumfries and Galloway and the Borders), 18 counties in England and two in Wales (Gwynedd and Clwyd).

The deal has to be rubber stamped by the EU commission before trade can begin, but when it does about a third of the UK sheep flock will be covered. Live exports will still be banned. NFU president, Ben Gill said the move was "another positive step on the road to recovery" and showed member states now recognised the effectiveness of UK controls.

NFU Scotland president, Jim Walker, said that, while the resumption of exports was "a desperately needed boost", the decision must be extended to include the two border counties as soon as possible.

That could happen later this month, as the standing veterinary committee meets again on Nov 20 to consider allowing sheep exports from counties which have been F&M-free for over 90 days.

Traders anticipate strong demand for British lamb once licences are issued, given the short supplies and high prices in mainland Europe. "We already have orders in place for as soon as we can move the product," said Farmers First marketing manager, Mike Gooding.

Last year the UK exported almost 200,000t of sheepmeat, mostly to France, earning the industry around £200m. To export now, abattoirs will have to meet the same conditions as apply for pigs and cattle. As well as the clean F&M record, animals must be slaughtered separately from those whose meat is not eligible for export. Carcasses must be stored on site for 24 hours.

The standing veterinary committee also agreed to extend the list of counties eligible to export beef to those that have not had the disease for more than 90 days. That includes Cornwall and the St Merryn Food Groups export approved plant at St Austell.

Procurement manager, John Dracup, said the company was keen to get back into the beef export business at the earliest opportunity. Securing enough supplies, given the fact the whole plant has to be dedicated to the export scheme, would be a problem, compounded by on-going F&M movement restrictions.

The strength of the £ and the relatively high price of British cattle would also make exporting a hard graft.

"But we have an excellent product and have to start somewhere," he told FW. &#42

&#8226 For more on lamb, see page 15.