14 June 1996

Euro-ban lift move

A DRAFT framework document for the progressive lifting of the UK beef ban is being discussed with the EU commission, said farm minister, Douglas Hogg.

After his tour of EU capitals with foreign secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, Mr Hogg said the commission and many other member states now saw the urgent need to get a framework in place.

The draft document under discussion identified a range of steps for a progressive relaxation of the export bans on calves and embryos. It also highlighted exemptions for mature, grass-fed beef; resumption of beef exports from cattle under 30 months old; and exports to Third countries.

The lifting of each part of the ban would be linked to agreed criteria, which would be checked by the commission before any relaxation was allowed.

Mr Hogg said the EU standing veterinary committee would review the UKs BSE eradication policy, which includes plans for a selective cull of 80,000 cattle, this week. He refused to say when the cull might begin – it would have to be debated in the Commons first but he could not say when.

"We need to consult the commission and the farming industry first. And we must also decide how best the processing industry can cope with a selective cull on top of the existing backlog of cattle in the 30-month scheme."

But he stressed that the cull should be limited to 80,000 head. "I dont want to move from that figure. Those animals are the ones most at risk of developing BSE, so it would be difficult to justify any additional measures."

MAFF hoped to have a clear view within a fortnight about how exemptions for beef from mature, grass-fed cattle, might operate. And progress was being made towards the introduction of cattle passports this summer.

Mr Hogg accepted that the UK needed a national database to allow immediate retrieval of information on cattle movements. But that would take a "substantial number of months to create".