20 September 1996

…No cull, no exports, says EU

EU FARM ministers left the UK in no doubt this week that the beef ban will not be lifted until a selective cull is implemented.

And other member states are in no mood to even discuss the possibility, touted by the UK farm minister Douglas Hogg, that the original plan to cull up to 147,000 cattle should be reduced in light of the recent Oxford University report (News, Sep 6).

During the two-day EU farm council meeting in Brussels, Mr Hogg told ministers that the UK government was still discussing both the Oxford report and recent evidence that BSE can be passed from cow to calf. And he used the meeting to appeal to his counterparts to reconsider the cull figures.

But farm commissioner Franz Fischler and Irish farm minister Ivan Yates, who holds the council presidency, immediately made it absolutely clear to Mr Hogg that nothing must be done to jeopardise the Florence deal.

Mr Yates said: "I am strongly of the view that the Florence agreement represents the only real basis to get the export ban on Britain lifted. I think to depart from that would only exacerbate a difficult situation."

And unless the UK came forward with its plans to eradicate BSE, namely the selective cull, then the next steps of the Florence deal could not be put in place he warned.

Shelley Wright

Mr Yates even offered the UK some hope that the ban on mature, grass-fed herds could be lifted, but only if the cull went ahead. And a Commission official said that such a move could be of particular benefit to Northern Ireland and Scotland, and he added that he would not be surprised if the two now moved to separate themselves from the English position.

Mr Hogg told the council that the UK had already made significant progress in meeting the Florence conditions. Cattle passports had been introduced, meat and bonemeal had been withdrawn and its possession made a criminal offence, and more than half a million cattle had been slaughtered under the 30-month scheme.

And the Florence agreement committed member states to base all future proceedings on science rather than politics he said. With two scientific developments since Florence it was reasonable to assume that ministers and the Commission would want to assess the new evidence he told reporters.

But the commission and member states insisted that the responsibility lay entirely with the UK. Mr Hogg was due to discuss the cull, and the EU reaction, with cabinet colleagues yesterday (Thur).