1 November 1996

Full cull No, but a partial one would get nod

By Shelley Wright

GOVERNMENT appears set to go ahead with some form of selective cull if it will secure a lifting of the export ban on beef from certified herds.

But farm minister, Douglas Hogg, in Luxembourg for an EU farm ministers meeting, insisted that the full cull of up to 147,000 cattle was not on the agenda. And he repeated his advice to farmers that "for working purposes assume there will be no big cull".

Contradictions

While Mr Hogg was saying no to the full cull, agreed at the Florence summit in June, back in London his Cabinet colleague Roger Freeman insisted on Monday that the selective cull would go ahead once the backlog of over 30-month cattle had been cleared. On Tuesday the Prime Minister told MPs that no final decision had yet been taken.

The UK farming unions, and other member states, are piling pressure on Mr Hogg to go ahead with the full cull. But he maintained there was no scientific justification for it, and there was no hint that even if the cull went ahead the ban would be lifted.

But he said that he might consider a limited cull to help secure agreement for lifting the ban on certified and beef assured herds. Cattle from those herds would, by their definition, have had no association with BSE, so a cull would be wholly irrelevant in scientific and objective terms.

"So you are then thrown back to the argument that a cull could be justified on the basis of consumer confidence," he said. But he refused to say how many animals might be involved – that would be a matter for further talks with the EU commission.

And there was further confusion over whether the government would allow a regional lifting of the ban, favoured by Northern Irelands farmers but strongly opposed by the rest of the UK. Mr Hogg said he would prefer a UK solution. "But we have to work things out with the commission, where we are likely to get the most progress in the quickest time, and it is important for us to make the earliest progress," he said.

Status important

He accepted that more herds in Scotland and Northern Ireland would qualify for the certified scheme than in the rest of the UK, but it was the status of the herds that was important, not their geographic location he insisted.

&#8226 Mr Hogg has still not decided how to allocate the extra £29m aid for beef farmers that he promised at the Tory party conference. The NFU wants the money to go to those who sold prime beef cattle between July 1 and Sept 30.