15 October 1999

No cull ewe scheme despite some tough Scottish lobbying

By Shelley Wright

LAST-DITCH efforts by Scottish ministers this week failed to persuade the EU Commission to sanction a cull ewe scheme.

Commission officials were adamant that the proposal, which would have ensured the humane slaughter of cast ewes, would constitute an illegal state aid. And, late last week, they rejected the scheme.

On Tuesday, Ross Finnie, Scottish farm minister, and First Minister, Donald Dewar, travelled to Brussels to meet EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler.

But, despite their efforts, they failed to persuade Mr Fischler and his officials to change their decision.

Mr Finnie said: "Obviously, I am very disappointed that the type of scheme which we had put forward and which was tailored to Scottish needs, does not fit the European Commissions state aid criteria.

"This is really frustrating after all the efforts the Scottish Executive have put into this pressing issue. However, I feel it is much better to face up to that now, and tell farmers that there will be no scheme, than hold out the forlorn hope of one emerging and risk ewes being held back from the market." Both he and Mr Dewar made clear to Mr Fischler their irritation that the European rules were so narrow that there was no scope to respond flexibly to the extreme difficulties being faced by Scottish sheep farmers.

The Scottish ministers highlighted the potential problems, in the absence of a cull scheme, of dealing with unwanted and dead animals.

Scottish NFU president, Jim Walker, said the commissions decision was extremely disappointing. "What we wanted was a scheme that would provide a co-ordinated and controlled means of humanely disposing of unwanted ewes.

"There was never any suggestion of farmers receiving money or benefiting financially from the scheme," he said.

"Farmers holding these ewes will now have to decide on the basis of their own circumstances what to do with them. They will have to face the unpalatable fact that no centrally organised scheme for their disposal will now be available," Mr Walker added.

The Scottish NFU has issued reminders to union branches about the guidelines covering on-farm disposal of carcasses. &#42