2 May 1997

Certified beef stalemate due to lack of database

By Shelley Wright

HOPES of early progress on lifting the beef ban for British certified herds have been dashed because of the lack of a computerised cattle traceability system.

But Northern Ireland, which has had a computer database since 1988, looks more likely than ever to be allowed to resume exports ahead of mainland Britain.

The certified herd scheme has not yet been studied by the various EU scientific committees. Yet EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler, and consumer affairs commissioner Emma Bonino have written to farm minister Douglas Hogg expressing concerns.

They told Mr Hogg that the certified herd proposal, to lift the export ban on beef from cattle under 30-months old that had never had any contact with BSE, was "rather complex". Especially since the proposal separated the beef into bone-in and boneless, depending on an animals history.

"We feel the management of this system will be relatively simple in Northern Ireland with its well-established computerised database and terminals in the abattoirs. However, in Great Britain the certification of these animals will depend on the declarations made by the farmer.

"And it is hard to see how the relevant information can be given by the keeper of an animal for all movements prior to the time at which he acquired it."

The commissioners told Mr Hogg that without computerised traceability the scheme in Britain was likely to be practical only for closed herds.

Replying to the letter, Mr Hogg said the government recognised that the proposals relied on farmers records. "For this reason, although the point is not explicitly covered in the UK paper, we had already decided that the GB scheme would be limited initially to meat either from animals going direct from the herd of birth to slaughter, or from animals which have moved only once between birth and slaughter," he said.

NFU leader Sir David Naish said he was very disappointed, with the commissioners letter. But he hoped that the concerns raised would turn out to be nothing more than a temporary technical difficulty. "We do have confidence in the systems for recording cattle movements in this country, and how they work needs to be explained quickly to the commission," he said.

He believed that many would now doubt whether Europe was serious about lifting the ban. "I am sure this is not the case, but we must see real progress," he said.

ed.