24 May 2002

FVO inspection visit may see resumption of beef exports

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

A TEAM of inspectors from the Brussels-based Food and Veterinary Office has arrived in the UK to assess the countrys BSE controls and, in particular, the working of the date-based export scheme.

If satisfied that all is as it should be, the visit could pave the way for the time-dedication of abattoirs under the DBES and a resumption of beef exports to European and world markets.

Abattoirs wanting to ship beef have to be permanently dedicated to the DBES. While one or two have tried in the past, no plants are prepared to commit to the scheme, due to the high costs and low turnover involved.

"We are very hopeful the visit will persuade the inspectors that time dedication is both feasible and desirable," said Helene Judge of the Meat and Livestock Commissions Brussels office.

The veterinary inspection is being led by DEFRA and will include a visit to the St Merryn Meat plant in Cornwall today (Friday) plus several other abattoirs, feed mills and port facilities throughout England and Wales next week.

An initial report is expected within two months, with a final report likely to be published in September, said Ms Judge. Assuming this is favourable – and commission inspectors are notoriously picky – formal proposals to relax the DBES could be issued in Brussels by the autumn.

Secretary general of the British Meat Federation, Peter Scott, said such a move would be "enormously helpful". "When we originally looked at the DBES we said it would not work, but were told by MAFF it would be good for the UK Ltd. Some companies gave it their best shot, but if you are losing money you can only do so for so long."

Time dedication of plants would make DBES more attractive, though Mr Scott anticipated just a gradual uptake, by companies looking to export top quality cuts.

"The fact is we are now less than self-sufficient. Last year we imported over 200,000t. We used to export primarily cow beef and this now all goes to the over 30-month scheme. Any exporter would only be selling the top-end cuts that could sell perfectly well at home." &#42