28 November 1997

Hopes of end to Ulster beef ban are dashed

By Tony McDougal

HOPES that the beef export ban could be lifted for certified herds in Northern Ireland by Christmas have been dashed following results of abattoir checks by EU veterinary experts.

Their report, following a visit to two farms and abattoirs in the province earlier this month, claimed there were inadequate provisions in the slaughterhouses to separate meat destined for the export market from that restricted to the domestic market.

It said traceability of meat from certified herds could not be guaranteed because of the danger of batches of meat becoming mixed during storage at abattoirs, with non-certified beef possibly being exported.

More complicated

The inspectors concluded that the situation would be further complicated once a date-based export scheme was up and running throughout the UK.

The report led to high-level talks in Brussels this week between Northern Irelands chief vet Ronnie Martin and EU Commission officials. They discussed various options to end the beef ban.

EU vets said Northern Ireland should have at least one slaughterhouse dedicated to handling only cattle for the export market. But both the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association and the Ulster Farmers Union said that was impractical because Ulster has only nine EC-approved slaughterhouses.

Walter Elliot, UFU president, said his preferred option would be to have dedicated slaughter days for export cattle rather than designated plants.

Backed the line

Cecil Mathers, Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association president, backed the line, saying it would be possible for an abattoir to work solely on exports for two days a week before resuming with beef for the domestic market.

Trevor Lockhart, UFU cattle and sheep committee secretary, said the segregation issue had delayed the lifting of the beef ban. "The original plan, if the inspection had gone okay, would have led to the proposals going before the EUs standing veterinary committee on December 2/3.

And, if successful, the December Farm Council may have lifted the ban for cattle from certified herds."

Proposals are now likely to go before the standing veterinary committee on Dec 16/17, but the industry believes the chance of the beef ban being lifted before the middle of January is slim.