By Emma Penny

THE Date Based Export Scheme – expected to receive EU approval shortly – is impractical and too expensive. It must either be simplified or attract aid if any abattoir is to process beef for export.

Speaking at Beef ’99, near Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Italian beef wholesaler and importer Francesca Piccoli said that the current system – requiring plants and transport to be dedicated exclusively to export – will make resuming exports impossible.

“I would urge your authorities – and particularly your new Scottish parliament – to press Brussels to relax the conditions under which exporting is to be allowed,” she said.

The main concern is that under DBES, processing plants must be dedicated to export-eligible cattle.

This means tag numbers of finished stock must be sent to a cattle tracing system office in Gloucester two weeks before slaughter.

Checks are carried out to ensure the dam survived for at least six months after the calfs birth.

Once cattle are confirmed eligible, they are sent to the dedicated plant, where a final check is carried out in the lairage.

When cattle fail this check, they will be sent to an alternative, non-export abattoir for processing.

Frank McMyler, manager of Kepaks Turriff, Grampian processing plant, also believes the scheme is unworkable and uneconomic at present.

“For plants in the DBES, the cost structure is excessive compared with competitor plants who may not be in the scheme.”

Kepak has been involved in recent EU inspections to see whether the appropriate system is in place to allow exports to resume, but Mr McMyler is unsure as to whether it will partake in the DBES when it is approved.

“Weve built up a good business in the UK over the last three years, and wed be foolish to throw it away.

“Under DBES, we must pay to check whether animals are eligible for export, as well as doubling supervision costs within the plant. We need aid to run the scheme – its just too expensive.”

Brian Pack of the ANM group, which runs Scotch Premier, agreed. “We cant afford to be in the scheme. Verifying every animal is eligible could cost up to £6 a head, and with Scottish Office figures suggesting a hit rate of only 35%, the cost triples.

“The scheme would make us uncompetitive. Also, importers can only buy boneless beef – theyd select round cuts which are easily sold, leaving the rest of the animal.

“We did the sums on processing 1000 cattle a week, and reckon wed lose £0.5m-£1m a year with the DBES.”

Rather than dedicating the plant to DBES, Mr Pack suggested dedicating a day to exports. “Its perfectly acceptable for intervention, why not for exports? Wed be happy to incur DBES costs for one day a week.”

But MLC beef economist Duncan Sinclair warned that there is no opportunity for re-negotiating the DBES.

“Were also having to sell into a hostile environment – weve been out of the market for three years and the exchange rate is not in our favour.

“Weve got to be realistic – its a slow process, but psychologically being able to export is a good for building consumer confidence.”