14 September 1999
Doubts grow over cull ewe scheme

By FWi staff

CONTROVERSIAL proposals to ease the crisis in farming by slaughtering hundreds of thousands of sheep could fall foul of European Union regulations.

Government officials have admitted that proposals for a national cull ewe scheme, put before the European Commission this week, could be rejected.

The plan, drawn up by the Scottish Office, was based on proposals made by the Meat and Livestock Commission to slaughter an estimated 400,000 ewes.

A response from Brussels is expected within the next few days

EU rules make it illegal for countries to pay farmers state aid for culled animals but the Ministry of Agriculture proposed the scheme on animal welfare grounds.

Nevertheless, it could be extremely difficult to convince the commission to accept the cull ewe scheme, said Kate Timms, MAFF under-secretary.

Any scheme to reduce the number of ewes on the market, even if it was introduced on animal welfare grounds, could be seen as a support measure, she said.

European commission officials could take the view that any reduction in sheep numbers would effectively be putting a floor in the market, added Ms Timms.

Brussels has already condemned as illegal state aid a similar cull ewe scheme which paid emergency aid to producers in Ireland last autumn.

Agriculture minister Nick Brown has since held informal talks with his Irish counterpart Joe Walsh to ascertain exactly why the Irish scheme was rejected.

The two men are now due to meet European agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler to establish what changes would make the cull ewe proposals acceptable.

Meanwhile, Mr Brown is confident that UK proposals to introduce storage aid for sheepmeat will be given the go-ahead by Brussels before the end of September.

But the reintroduction of the Calf Processing Aid Scheme to take unwanted worthless dairy bull calves off the market appears increasing unlikely.

The UK calf scheme was twice extended before it was abolished at the end of July and European permission for calf processing expires at the end of November.