05 July 1999
Government to back British beef

By Vicky Houchin

THE government is preparing a mass marketing campaign to promote British beef abroad once exports resume – possibly in the next few weeks.

Franz Fischler, the European agriculture commissioner, is expected to decide whether beef shipments can get underway later this summer.

The government is in the “advanced stages of planning” a promotional campaign to coincide with any announcement, reports The Times.

It says the governments date-based scheme to slaughter all cattle possibly infected with BSE should have eradicated all traces of the disease by August.

The European Union decided last November that the ban should be lifted, but the resumption of exports is conditional on the effectiveness of the scheme.

A further point in the UKs favour is that a recent report by EU scientific advisors gave an overall positive assessment that the measures taken by Britain have been effective.

But the report also contained a couple of potential hitches.

It had concerns over the computer database listing details of cattle born after August 1996 and wanted all offspring of BSE-infected animals slaughtered.

The Times says that Herr Fischler is “under pressure from other EU states” to delay any lifting of the ban amid fears.

Some other European Union member states, such as Germany, are worried that the market will be flooded with British beef once the ban is lifted.

The Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) is marketing experts were targeting in France, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy and Greece.

The organisation has already brought foreign journalists to Britain to show them British production systems and safety systems guaranteeing British beef is BSE-free.

“So far we have hosted 15 groups from throughout Europe with the potential to reach millions in their home countries,” said Don Curry, MLC chairman.

The MLC also hopes to have more than 30 trade visitors from countries as far afield as China, Vietnam and the USA at the Royal Show this week.

Mr Curry said there were real opportunities to rebuild the market for British beef exports which was once worth £500 million a year.

Any promotional campaign will have to overcome some sceptical European consumers and the MLC realises that doing so will be far from easy.

It is still battling in this country to convince almost fifty local authorities that British beef is safe enough to be served to school children.

The MLC has successfully persuaded many regions to list British beef on the menus in their schools but 47 out of 204 local authorities are refusing to do so.

The latest local authority to reconsider is Derby, which has reinstated prime cuts and will review putting burgers back on the menu in December.

The MLC estimates that a further 20 local authorities are actively reviewing their stance and beef could be introduced back into schools soon.

“We are happy to give as much help and advice as the authorities need – including assistance organising parental surveys,” said Mr Curry.

“Consumer confidence has returned to British beef and sales are very buoyant. There is no reason why it should not be reinstated on every school menu.”