5 December 2000
Mass slaughter in mad cow battle

By Philip Clarke in Brussels

ALL European cattle over 30 months old which have not been tested for BSE are to be slaughtered in an attempt to stop the disease spreading to humans.

The move aims to reassure European consumers who have abandoned beef in recent weeks and to help rebalance the market rocked by fears of BSE.

After more than eight hours of debate, ministers agreed unanimously that the “purchase for destruction” scheme should be introduced as soon as possible.

In a further move, a six-month Europe-wide ban on meat and bonemeal – widely blamed for spreading BSE – will come into effect on 1 January.

Agriculture ministers also agreed to increase the 60% beef special premium advance payment to 80% to get some much needed cash into farmers pockets.

And they set in place procedures for countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece to lift their unilateral bans on French beef by the end of the year.

Older animals will now be taken out of the food chain across Europe, as soon as the regulations implementing the decision have been passed.

Exact rates for the buy-up scheme will be decided by the European Unions beef management committee, at a meeting scheduled for next week.

But European farm commissioner Franz Fischler said he was confident there would be enough in the budget to cater for a 10% drop in beef demand.

Conventional intervention buying was not an option, he said, as it was only available to bull and steer beef, not cow beef, which had taken the greatest hit.

Besides, the purchase for destruction scheme will cost about Euro140m/100,000t compared with over Euro200m/100,000t for normal intervention.

Mr Fischler explained that 70% of the cost would be met by Brussels, with the rest – and the cost of destruction – being paid by individual member state.

Different rates of payment will apply in different countries to reflect the different market values for cull cows and older bulls and steers, he added.

This appears to scupper the hopes of the National Farmers Union in England and Wales that more money will be paid for older cattle slaughtered in Britain.

Britain already has its own Over Thirty Months Scheme, which was introduced in a bid to keep BSE out of the human food chain.

Figures suggested by Dr Fischler had initially implied increased payments of up to Euro2/kg deadweight, said the NFUs Marie Hunter.

But now it seems the UK will be stuck with the current Euro1.6/kg deadweight because that is the effective market price.

Nevertheless, NFU president Ben Gill, who travelled to Brussels to lobby for BSE controls, said he was generally satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.

The provision that fishmeal may still be used in pig and poultry rations should take some heat out of the market for soya and rapemeal, he suggested.