22 March 1996

Hormone check fees threat

UK beef producers could face hormone inspection charges after EU farm ministers decided to tighten controls.

Despite UK opposition, ministers agreed to raise the number of live animal inspections on farms and abattoirs. EU officials say the UK is expected to charge farmers for the inspections even if hormone abuse is not found.

The NFU has condemned the move, arguing producers should not have to pay, especially when no illegal hormones have been detected.

After agreeing the framework last month EU farm ministers this week decided penalties for illegal hormone use in cattle must be strengthened. From July 1997, farmers will lose all beef premiums for the whole herd for one year for the first offence and for five years for the second.

Ministers also agreed to ban beta agonists, including clenbuterol, and other growth promoting substances for all purposes other than for veterinary use in horses, pets and in-calf cows.

Speaking afterwards, junior farm minister Tony Baldry argued that the decision did not put the EU in the best negotiating position for World Trade Organisation talks with the US on lifting the EUs hormone ban. The UK backed the US view that the EU ban on hormones which are considered to be safe for human health should be lifted.

The draft rules on hormone penalties are now due to be approved by Euro-MPs before being adopted by ministers.