19 November 1999

Farce has set back BSE cost control

THE political farce that now surrounds exports of British beef to France has set back industry efforts to cut the BSE-related costs and controls that are crippling the industry, says Scottish NFU leader Jim Walker.

Wrangling between the British and French governments had simply raised questions around the world about the safety of British beef all over again.

The re-opening of the French market alone would not result in significant exports, Mr Walker conceded. But it would have allowed the industry to move on in its efforts to remove many of the domestic burdens, such as the over-30-month scheme.

"We now see no prospect of being able to get the OTMS removed in the near future," he said. Ending the scheme would need EU approval. But the current political fuss meant there was no point in approaching other member states with such a proposal.

Full compensation

As a result, Mr Walker demanded that government remove the 560kg payment ceiling on OTMS animals. "Because of this political mess, we want full compensation for all cattle going through the scheme," he said.

Mr Walker was also deeply critical of recent comments from Scottish farm minister Ross Finnie that the industry had to stop relying on government hand-outs and make its money from the market.

"We have shown our willingness to adapt to commercial reality, but its impossible to take our industry forward in a practical way when were met with political interference by government and blatant commercial – and illegal – protectionism by other member states," he said.

"Nearly two years ago, we were told by the Prime Minister that the strength of sterling was short term pain worth experiencing for economic stability and control of inflation. But sterling is still strengthening today."

No one would be happier than he to stop having to seek government aid, but that could not happen until British farmers could compete equally with their EU counterparts, said Mr Walker. And he urged government to turn its "empty promises and rhetoric of concern for rural areas" into a firm commitment. &#42