10 September 1999
No live cattle exports for two years

By Isabel Davies

EXPORTS of live cattle from the UK are unlikely to resume for at least two years, the National Farmers Union has warned livestock producers.

Although the resumption of beef exports was given the go-ahead last month, live cattle exports remain banned until the number of annual BSE cases falls below 200.

The rule is part of the Florence agreement made in June 1996 by EU ministers to set out the framework for a progressive lifting of the export ban on British beef.

There has been a sharp decline in the number of BSE cases since then, but it is estimated that it will take until at least 2001-02 for the number to fall below 200.

There are still about 55 cases of BSE reported each week, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Agriculture.

Tony Pexton, NFU deputy president, told farmers at Guildford market last week that the union was exploring the alternatives to live exports.

Although farmers have called for live exports to restart, under the terms of the Florence agreement the UK is unable to export.

One of the options was to encourage continental buyers to consider rearing dairy calves for veal in this country, said Mr Pexton.

Animals could be slaughtered once they were over six-months-old with the meat then being exported under the existing date-based export scheme, he said.

NFU officials had been talking to both Dutch and French buyers and were encouraged by their initial interest, he added.

A MAFF spokesman confirmed that live exports were some time away, with any resumption of the trade unlikely until the number of BSE cases dropped further.

Getting EU approval for live exports was not the governments first priority, the spokesman added.

Labour ministers have never made any secret of their dislike of the live trade, although they have been forced to accept it is legal under EU rules.