26 April 1996

Europe stands firm as hopes of early end to beef ban fade

FARM minister Douglas Hogg quashed hopes of an early lifting of the EU ban on beef exports after a one-hour meeting with farming union leaders in Downing Street on Wednesday.

He said difficult negotiations lay ahead with EU member states and that he did not wish to spark off unreasonable expectations of an early lifting of the ban.

EU officials in Brussels this week forecast that it could be months, or even years, before the ban is lifted as some member states continued to adopt a tough stand.

French farm minister Philippe Vasseur conceded this week that it was necessary to work out a timetable to start removing the ban. But German Farmers Union leader Constantine von Heereman announced he was not satisfied with measures currently imposed by the UK government.

NFU leader Sir David Naish, also president of the EU farm organisation, COPA, said he was disappointed by Mr Heeremans comments. He was also discouraged by UK foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkinds threats of a retaliation through a ban on beef products entering the UK.

But he believed progress had been made after holding talks with Mr Vasseur at the 50th Inter-national Federation of Agriculture Producers conference on Monday.

Mr Vasseur said the way forward for the UK government would first be to work towards lifting the ban on gelatine, semen and embryos before tackling the wider issue of beef exports.

Though recognising the work carried out by the UK government, he said the BSE scare had hit consumer confidence across Europe, which would take time to rescue.

Speaking in Paris earlier he said Britain should adopt a drastic slaughter policy, killing every cow aged 30 months or more and slaughtering entire herds if a single contaminated cow were discovered.

The NFU began its legal challenge this week. An application for judicial review against MAFF and Customs and Excise for their refusal to issue export certificates for live cattle and beef was lodged on Wednesday. &#42