31 October 1997

Now French store imports jeopardise lifting of beef ban

By Mike Stones

STORE cattle imported from France threaten to undermine attempts to lift the EU ban on British beef and could decimate the UKs store trade, warns a Norfolk suckler producer.

John Plum, Orchard Farm, Guestwick, Norfolk, asked farm minister Jack Cunningham, during his meeting with members of the Farmers Club in London, for assurances that imported cattle would not be allowed to jeopardise the lifting of the ban.

"Heifers are already being imported from Holland and France. What is to stop dealers taking advantage of the high value of sterling to import cheap French cattle which could be infected with BSE?" asked Mr Plum.

And a flood of cheap stores, particularly at this time of year when demand was strong, could undermine UK trade, he argued.

Mr Plum questioned whether imported cattle would be eligible for the human food chain when they reached 30 months of age, therefore commanding a higher price, or whether they would have to go through the over-30-month scheme, at lower prices, like UK stock.

Dr Cunningham replied that he did not know the answer to Mr Plums question but would supply one as soon as possible.

Unimpressed by the ministers response, Mr Plum said later: "Someone should be thinking ahead and anticipating these questions. It was not thinking ahead that got us into the BSE mess in the first place and theres little evidence that anything has changed."

A MAFF spokeswoman said beef from OTMS cattle imported from France, or any other country with a history of BSE, would not be allowed to enter the food chain.

But that rule would not apply to imports from Third Countries with no history of BSE, such as Australia and Argentina.

Store cattle imported from France would be eligible for the OTMS scheme after spending six months on a UK-registered holding, she added.