15 October 1999

Christmas cheer if Germany votes to lift ban on UK beef

By Philip Clarke

THE battle with Germany over its continuing ban on British beef should be over by Christmas, industry executives were predicting at the Anuga food fair in Cologne this week.

According to Meat and Live-stock Commission head of export marketing, Terry Lee, the Germans are approaching the matter rationally, unlike the French who are more concerned about the economic impact of re-opening their market.

But lifting the ban requires a majority decision in the Bundesrat – the upper house of government – and so far that has not been forthcoming. "The Bundesrat is made up of the 16 German lander and the federal government does not have a majority – the Greens do," said Mr Lee.

The word from the German health ministry, however, was that the Bundesrat should vote to lift the ban by Christmas.

That message was reinforced by top veterinary official from Lower Saxony, Goetz Anhalt, who said most of the lander had agreed they should not enter a fight with Brussels.

"We are waiting to see what comes out of the French report (into the risks from British beef, currently with the commission). If there is new scientific knowledge, we will look at it. But if there is nothing new, I expect our ban to be lifted by the end of the year," he told farmers weekly.

Despite the encouraging signs, diplomatic pressure is being maintained. At a British Meat dinner at Anuga, MLC chairman, Don Curry, told an audience of German trade and industry officials it was "extremely disappointing and regrettable" that the UK was still unable to export beef.

"We never expected it would be easy. But the UK has delivered on its promises and can satisfy a plethora of rules required by the EU. I urge the authorities here, and in France, to accept the decisions made in Brussels."

Speaking earlier at the Anuga event, Scottish farm minister, Ross Finnie, said the longer the Germans and French maintained their blockades, the more damage would be done to public confidence.

But the continuing ban on bone-in beef at home, and the conflicting advice between national health officers in Scotland, Wales and England, was not helping the cause. "Unless we can lift the beef-on-the-bone ban in a way which is clearly understood, it will be misinterpreted in Europe," he said.

John Dracup of St Merryn Meat, the only British company exporting beef, was more candid. "Our customers say that, if we cant agree among ourselves, why should they trust us." Most demand in Europe was for bone-in product, he added.

lA special briefing organised by the MLC to explain to German state scientists the facts about BSE and the measures taken to protect consumers attracted an audience of just seven out of over 50 invitees, in Bonn this week. &#42