13 December 1996

MEPs hopeful of decision on cull shortly

EXPECTATIONS of an imminent government announcement on the selective cull were raised after a delegation of Euro-MPs met cabinet minister Roger Freeman.

Speaking after the meeting last week Lord Plumb, Cotswolds MEP, said he hoped there would be a government announcement "within a matter of days". But as FW went to Press on Tuesday MAFF said that despite recent high level talks no policy had yet been agreed.

The six MEPs were on a three-day fact finding visit in the UK, organised by Lord Plumb, as part of the European Parliaments BSE investigation.

Lord Plumb said the committee was very much in favour of the selective cull, which was an integral part of the Florence agreement for a phased lifting of the EU beef export ban.

While the figure discussed at Florence had been a cull of up to 147,000 cattle, he said there were likely to be less than 100,000 cohorts left on farms because many older cattle had already been slaughtered in the over-30-month scheme.

After visits to a farm, abattoir, livestock market, and meetings with consumer groups, MAFF and the NFU the MEPs reported that the BSE control measures seemed to be working well.

But German MEP, Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, warned that any relaxation of the beef ban would depend on consumers views. The correct measures were now being applied, but the lack of confidence that German consumers have in the UK government and the BSE controls had not changed, he said.

NFU leader Sir David Naish this week stepped up the pressure on farm minister Douglas Hogg to implement the cull. Speaking to farmers at a Herefordshire meeting he condemned Mr Hogg for stating publicly that he did not believe the EU would lift the ban with or without the completion of the terms of the Florence agreement.

"What a stupid thing for him to be saying, they (UK government) signed to it and it is up to them to make it work."

To complete its side of the Florence deal the government must implement the selective cull. "I didnt negotiate that package but now we have it we must stick by it," he said.