28 February 1997

Hogg speeds moves to lift ban on beef

By Shelley Wright

ATTEMPTS to kick-start lifting the beef export ban moved into gear this week when farm minister, Douglas Hogg, submitted formal government proposals for a certified herd scheme to Europe.

Farming unions welcomed the move and were pleased changes had been made to the original proposals which, they believed, would allow many more cattle to qualify.

Mr Hogg said the UK had met all terms of the Florence deal, so it was now up to the other EU members to deliver their side of the bargain – a gradual lifting of the beef ban. But he would not say when he hoped EU agreement on certified herds might be reached. The EU commission, however, warned discussions could take many months.

The so-called export certified herds scheme would apply to cattle under 30-months-old. But, despite the name, it will be individual animals, rather than entire herds, which are certified.

Originally, government said herds which had ever suffered a case of BSE would be permanently banned from joining the scheme. But, after industry consultation and intensive lobbying by the farming unions, the scheme has been amended to allow cattle which have had no association with BSE in the past six years to qualify.

Mr Hogg said exports would be split into two categories. Cattle born in herds which have never had a case of BSE will be eligible for bone-in export, if the animal did not pass through any herd which had reported a case of BSE in the past six years.

Exports of bone-out beef will apply to other cattle which may have come from, or passed through, a herd where BSE had been found, so long as the last case was more than six years ago.

Mr Hogg refused to say how many UK cattle might qualify for the scheme. "There will be many in Northern Ireland, and fewer in GB," was as far as he went. But the minister made clear that, while the scheme applied to the entire country, producers in Northern Ireland were in the strongest position to benefit first.

In a letter to EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, Mr Hogg said: "The excellent traceability system which has been in place for many years in Northern Ireland, together with the low incidence of BSE (indeed, the number of new cases reported so far this year is lower than in the Republic of Ireland) mean that there is a particularly strong case for direct and immediate relief under this scheme for those herds which are situated in Northern Ireland."

Ulster Farmers Union, said the ministers acceptance of Northern Irelands position was good news. &#42