5 March 2001
EU scheme to clear surplus beef

By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

BRUSSELS is poised to introduce a new “special purchase scheme” for older beef as it moves to clear more of the surplus from the EU market.

The plan, which could be ratified by market managers next week, will replace the “purchase for destruction” scheme in countries which can test all beef for BSE.

These include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

The new scheme will operate in a similar way to conventional intervention, with slaughterhouses tendering fortnightly.

Eligible animals will be those that do not currently qualify for intervention (mainly females and older bulls), that are over 30-months of age and which have all tested negatively for BSE.

Crucially, the new scheme will also give member states the option to store the meat for sale or to destroy it.

This is to counter criticism, notably in Germany, of the ethics of burning animals under the purchase for destruction scheme, most of which are healthy.

“No one will be forced to destroy BSE-tested beef,” said agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler. “We just make an offer to buy the farmers unsellable meat.”

Like intervention, the special purchase scheme will only operate if cow prices slip below a certain trigger level.

Exact details have yet to be decided. One possibility is that it will be at 75% of the normal intervention level.

This would be reduced further by a coefficient to reflect the historic value of cows relative to steers.

The amount paid to slaughterhouses would not exceed this trigger level, plus a recognised processing margin.

Countries that cannot test all their beef may continue to use PFD – which pays farmers fixed compensation for all untested over-30-month animals – until 30 June, when BSE testing becomes compulsory.

This has been welcomed by Irish farmers groups, as it means older steers as well as cows will still be taken off the market.

“Given the huge uncertainty in agriculture at the present time, it is critical that current beef supports are maintained,” said Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association beef committee chairman, Liam Heverin.

UK farmers are exempted from both schemes, since all over-30-month animals are banned from the human feed chain in this country.