27 September 1996

Cull move defence

GOVERNMENT insists that its decision to shelve the selective cattle cull does not jeopardise the Florence agreement for the progressive lifting of the beef ban.

Cabinet ministers decided late last week to put the cull on hold until new scientific findings on maternal transmission of BSE, and different cull options, were analysed. The other main reason behind the decision was the growing certainty that parliament would not approve the proposed slaughter of up to 147,000 animals.

But farm minister Douglas Hogg was adamant that the decision did not imply that government was backing down on its side of the Florence agreement. He said the deal, struck by EU heads of government in June, was that all judgements should be made on scientific and objective criteria.

It also allowed all new evidence to be brought forward for discussion, which was exactly what the UK government was now doing. And, although the cull was on hold in the meantime, that did not rule out some form of selective slaughter being introduced later if it was scientifically justified, or if it would lead to a rapid and substantial lifting of the ban.

He said that government now planned to consult the EU Commission on its proposals to relax the export ban on cattle under 30 months old which came from certified herds that have had no contact with BSE. And Mr Hogg said he was prepared to look at cull options in that context.

The Country Landowners Association welcomed the decision to shelve the selective cull which, it said, could not be justified scientifically. And the NFU was delighted that the negotiations under the Florence agreement would continue.

Sir David Naish, NFU president, said: "By accepting that it will return to the cull options in the light of the developing science and of discussions on the certified herds scheme, the government has kept the door open for an agreement which should lead to the resumption of UK beef exports."

In the past week Sir David has met EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler, and Sir Leon Brittan, vice president of the EU Commission. Both made it clear that the Commission remained committed to the Florence deal, Sir David said.

"We agreed that we must do all we can to ensure that the principles of the Florence agreement are fulfilled." And he stressed that what British farmers now needed was a rapid timetable for talks so that they knew exactly where they stood.