7 July 2000
N Ireland BSE paper ‘days away’

By Isabel Davies and Anthony Garvey

FARM minister Nick Brown has revealed that the government is “only days away” from releasing a consultation paper which is the first step in granting low BSE status to Northern Ireland.

Mr Brown said he and NI farm minister Brid Rodgers, were about to agree a document which would go out to consultation with the industry.

Once the consultation is complete the government will make a formal application to the EU Commission to get the provinces status changed.

But it has already emerged that Northern Ireland may have to halt live imports from mainland Britain and restrict the carcass trade to win the low BSE incidence status.

Mrs Rodgers, who was in Dublin last Friday for talks with her Irish counterpart, Joe Walsh, said there is support in Brussels for Northern Irelands case, but there are still many difficulties to overcome.

“There is a fear in Europe that Northern Ireland could be used as a backdoor for beef exports from the rest of the UK,” she warned.

Ulster Farmers Union director of commodities Wesley Aston said the commission had originally proposed that “a virtual Iron Curtain” be imposed on all related trade between Northern Ireland and Britain.

“That was simply unrealistic, but the discussions have moved on since then.”

He felt that action could be taken on the live trade from the UK, as it was relatively small.

But there is currently significant carcass trade, with imports from the UK sent for processing in Northern Ireland plants.

He said any loss of that trade would have job implications and suggested that controls, ensuring the carcasses went directly to the plants for processing before dispatch straight back to the UK, were adequate.