14 September 2001

EUends Scotlands hopes of early beef export resumption

By Philip Clarke

and Shelley Wright

HOPES that the foot-and-mouth export ban could be lifted for Scotland after it was declared disease-free this week have been dashed by the EU Standing Veterinary Committee which ruled out an early resumption of exports.

Earlier this week Scotlands rural development minister Ross Finnie declared the country F&M free, with the final infected area restrictions removed on Sep 11. It is now more than three months since the last case of the disease was reported north of the border.

Mr Finnie said classing the whole of Scotland as disease free allowed the country to introduce additional protection against the possibility of disease being brought north from England by breeding stock.

Any breeding animals moving to Scotland can now only come from areas of England and Wales that also qualify as disease free.

The move coincided with the start of negotiations in Brussels to get the F&M export ban lifted for the whole of Scotland.

Scotlands chief vet Leslie Gardner started the push to get the export ban lifted at a meeting of the EU Standing Veterinary Committee on Sep 11 and 12.

But the EU vets rejected the suggestions that some F&M-free regions should be allowed to resume exports.

A 150-page report, outlining the controls in the UK and the special circumstances in Scotland, was presented to the Brussels-based committee. But every member state which commented, including France, Spain and Ireland, said it was far too early to even consider relaxing the export controls.

"Recent outbreaks in Northumberland and this weeks scare in Leicestershire have heightened their fears that foot-and-mouth is still circulating," said a UK government source in Brussels. "It seems they want a clear run with no outbreaks at all before they will consider even limited regionalisation."

Farmer representatives said they were disappointed but not surprised at the outcome. "Theyre not saying no to regionalisation under any circumstances, but they want us to eliminate the hotspots," said director of the NFUs Brussels office Betty Lee. "There is concern that, even with testing, the disease could reappear."

There may also be more political will to move things forward once France, Ireland and the Netherlands have been granted their formal F&M-free status by the International Office of Epizootics (OIE) which meets next week in Paris.

The issue will be discussed again at the next committee meeting on Sep 25. &#42