19 June 1998

Scheme snags prompt a

ban lift No vote from UK

By FWreporters

UK government vets were ready yesterday (Thur) to vote against the EU Commissions date-based scheme proposal to end the British beef export ban.

The Scottish Office highlighted two serious problems in the commission paper. And they warned that Britain would have to vote against the proposals in their current form.

As FARMERS WEEKLY went to press (Wed), last minute efforts were being made to have the proposals amended. And the British aim at yesterdays standing veterinary committee meeting was to avoid a vote.

The two British concerns are that the regulations presently insist that not only should beef exports be boned out, but that bones become a specified risk material.

The other major worry is that the date-based scheme would never operate for British beef farmers because of a clause stating that offspring of cattle infected with BSE after Aug 1, 1996, must be slaughtered and destroyed and that no beef can be exported until the offspring cull is complete.

The government believes that means that as long as there is a trickle of BSE cases in Britain, no exports will be allowed.

Scottish NFU president George Lyon said the likely outcome would be that agreement on a date-based scheme would be delayed until the September meeting of EU farm ministers.

The two areas of difficulty apparently crept into the text of the commission proposal during horse trading between the agricultural and consumer affairs directorates in Brussels.

"I understand UK farm minister Jack Cunningham has written to every EU member state, embassy and to the commission urging that these difficulties be resolved to our satisfaction. There are hopes that agreement can be reached before the vets meet, but the reality is that final agreement is now unlikely before September," said Mr Lyon.

Dr Cunningham would not confirm that the UK would vote against the current proposal, saying only that there was no question of Britain wanting to turn down a scheme it had been anxious to secure for the past few months.

UK government representatives in Brussels added there could be practical difficulties in locating and destroying every last animal in the offspring cull, which is expected to involve about 14,000 cattle.

Ian Gardiner, NFU policy director, said his interpretation of the commission proposal was that as long as all the offspring of BSE cases born between Aug I, 1996 and the date on which the commission finally approved the scheme were killed, then exports could resume.

But clarification was needed. The union was also concerned about the potential cost of adding cattle bones to the SRM list.

According to the rendering trade, the 114,000 tonnes of cattle bones they handle each year are almost worthless.

Almost all bonemeal goes to landfill at a cost of £90/tonne, compared with £130/tonne for SRM disposal.

NFU leaders were due to meet MAFF officials yesterday to discuss the issues.