25 February 1998
Government to pay for SRM removal and national cattle database

By Boyd Champness and Philip Clarke

GOVERNMENT has shelved plans to charge the farming sector for the new anti-BSE measures in abattoirs and the national cattle database – resulting in a combined saving of £70 million for the industry.

In a move that was welcomed by farmer leaders across the country, agriculture minister Dr Jack Cunningham announced today that the livestock industry would no longer be expected to fund these two schemes.

Speaking at the Agra-Europe Outlook Conference, Dr Cunningham said: “I recognise that if charged to the industry at this time, they would represent an additional heavy cost”.

The Governments original plan was to start recovering money from the livestock industry from April this year for the implementation of the new specified risk material (SRM) controls on cattle, sheep and goats.

But this has now been dropped, resulting in a saving to the industry of £35m. If the charges had been recovered, livestock producers could have expected to lose £10 for every bovine and £1.50 for every older sheep slaughtered.

In addition, the Government has agreed to pay the entire start-up costs and the first year running costs of the British Cattle Movement Service at Workington, Cumbria. Removing £35m in threatened costs.

The Government hopes to have the national cattle database ready by September. It will have the ability to trace every new-born bovine once the database is operational and is an integral part in getting the UKs beef ban lifted.

Dr Cunningham said his decisions followed a meeting at Number 10 Downing Street last week with farming leaders and the Prime Minister.

Some cynics suggested that the announcement was a ploy by the Government to quell numbers at Sundays Countryside Alliance march, which is expected to draw 150,000 rural dwellers to London.

National Farmers Union president Ben Gill, who was at last weeks meeting with Mr Blair and Dr Cunningham, said he was “delighted” by the announcement.

“At long last the Government is appreciating the severe financial difficulties facing the farming industry. The decision acknowledges that extra costs being placed on our industry are undermining our competitiveness,” he said.

But despite todays good news, Mr Gill said farmers were still hampered by many other factors including the beef export ban, cheap imports and the collapse of farm incomes arising largely from the strong Pound.