NI beef back on European plates within weeks
By Philip Clarke in Brussels
NORTHERN Irish beef will be back on consumers plates in Europe and the rest of the world within weeks.
That was the upbeat prediction of UK junior farm minister, Lord Donoughue, speaking just minutes after EU farm ministers voted in favour of the Export Certified Herd scheme in Brussels, last night.
The scheme allows the sale of de-boned beef from cattle aged between six and 30 months which have had no cases of BSE for at least eight years.
But before trade can resume, EU inspectors must pay another visit to Northern Ireland to check procedures to keep certified beef separate from other meat. Part of the agreement states that exports can only be handled by designated abattoirs and packing centres.
Only Germany and Belgium voted against the scheme. But EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler said the Commission and its scientific advisers rejected Germanys concern that BSE-free herds might include animals brought on to the farm from uncertified herds.
Luxembourg and Spain abstained in the vote – which required only an eight-to-seven majority. In the event, 11 countries voted in favour.
Parliamentary secretary for Northern Ireland, Lord Dubs, warned that it would take some time for the meat trade to win back its former market. He predicted that it would take at least one year to win back 50% of Northern Irelands previous market share.
“Market conditions have been through a radical change since the export ban was imposed on UK beef,” he said. “Consumption of beef has gone down in most European states, previous customers have been sourcing from elsewhere, and the strength of Sterling has a major impact on market pricing.”
But Lord Donoughue described the vote as “the most positive signal to livestock farmers throughout the UK, who have suffered the harsh consequences of BSE for the past two years.”
Efforts to get the ban lifted for the rest of the UK will focus on a date-based scheme, Lord Donoughue added. This would allow exports of beef from animals born after 1 August, 1996, when the last BSE-infected feed stocks were destroyed.