2 November 2001

Limited exports of British beef get green light

By Philip Clarke Europe editor

BRITISH beef could soon be back on Continental dinner plates, as exporters prepare to resume their fledgling business that was brought to a halt by foot-and-mouth last February.

Under the terms of the agreement signed off by EU commissioners on Tuesday (Oct 30), exports may now begin from those counties that have had no cases of the disease this year.

That takes in the Scotbeef plant at Straden in Lanarkshire, one of just two approved under the date-based export scheme (DBES). St Merryn Meats in Cornwall is still excluded.

According to Scotbeef managing director, Ian Galloway, his company wants to get back to shipping beef as quickly as possible. "It will be a hard hill to climb, but we have to start somewhere," he said.

Scotbeef first started exporting under the DBES in September 1999, dedicating the cattle line at Straden to the task. At its peak it was processing about 10t a week of prime Scottish beef for export to customers in Italy, Belgium and Holland.

"While it was a small business when we stopped, there were signs that things were gathering momentum with the spring approaching," he told FW.

Mr Galloway remains optimistic. "Our challenge is to make inroads on quality. While it is true you can sell gold too dear, we have some very loyal customers. And, if we get a clear run without any more disasters, we should be able to build the business."

Peter Scott, secretary general of the British Meat Federation, agrees that trade will be slow to start with. "The date-based export scheme is very expensive and very restrictive."

A resumption of exports will be a psychological boost, but the real challenge is to get beef shipments approved outside the DBES. "Looking at the rate our incidence of BSE is falling, there will come a time next year when our path will cross with those EU countries whose BSE rates are rising," said Mr Scott.

At that point the commission would have no reason to treat the UK as a special case. &#42