10 April 1998

Date scheme delay

THE timetable for introducing a date-based scheme for exporting British beef appears to be slipping.

Recently, EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler suggested that formal proposals would be ready in Brussels by Easter (News, Mar 27). But that has proved overly optimistic.

Last week MAFF issued another industry-wide consultation on the subject, in particular to examine ways of dealing with ongoing concerns about maternal transmission.

"The (Brussels-based) scientific steering committee has sought further reassurance that the dam of the export animal was not incubating BSE before the calfs birth," says MAFF in a covering letter.

That can be provided by showing the dam was still alive six months after the calfs birth. But existing databases cannot show this and MAFF is now considering how else to give these guarantees.

One option is to get farmers to sign a legally binding declaration that the dams were still alive, backed up with a system of spot checks and fines for false statements. Alternatively, vets could provide the declaration. In any cases where the dam subsequently goes down with BSE, all her calves will be culled.

The consultation is also examining procedures for keeping meat intended for export separate from other meat at abattoirs. It is suggested the Meat Hygiene Service police the scheme.

The consultation ends on Apr 30, and further progress cannot be made until the findings have been examined and the results submitted to Brussels. "Yes, there looks like being a slight delay," says Meat and Livestock Commission strategy director, Bob Bansback. "But its better to get the end product right now than have to come back for further talks."

Under the scheme, beef for export must be deboned and come from cattle born after Aug 1, 1996 – the date from when mammalian meat and bonemeal was removed from all feed. Animals must be between six and 30 months old at slaughter, and must be fully traceable – either on a passport or on a computer system.