By James Garner

MEAT exports should resume three months after the last case of foot-and-mouth disease, provided seriological blood testing of sheep flocks in infected areas has been completed.

Robin Bell, head of MAFFs veterinary international trade team, told delegates at a National Beef Association export briefing conference at Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, that once international trade rules governing foot-and-mouth disease were met, exports could resume.

He declined to predict when this would be, but said that MAFF was making good progress testing sheep and the number of cases had been falling – until the outbreak in Settle, North Yorkshire caused a temporary blip.

At some point, a decision would have to be made as to whether the UK should apply for regional meat exports or wait to gain clearance for the whole country, he said.

“Regionalisation could be a disadvantage. There are a lot of restrictions on the movement of animals, meat and milk products that would have to be adhered to. It is a complex situation, which must be given a great deal of consideration.”

But while the export ban could be lifted for sheep, pig meat and a limited amount of beef under the date-based export scheme, a full resumption of beef exports would be governed by satisfying BSE regulations.

“We will have cleared foot-and-mouth before low-incidence BSE status has been reached,” said Mr Bell.

Laws governing international and EU trade state that the UK must record fewer than 100 cases per million breeding animals to be granted low-incidence status.

In the UK, the testing programme has been widened to include fallen stock and cattle moved into the over 30-months scheme.

This means more cases are likely to be discovered, but Mr Bell said he still expected the UK to satisfy criteria by the end of next year.

Exports will resume once BSE regulations have been met rather than when foot-and-mouth disease is eradicated. n

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