3 August 2001

Scots sheep ban lifting talks are well advanced

By Shelley Wright

DISCUSSIONS are under way to try and get the ban on sheep exports lifted for Scotland.

It is now nine weeks since the last case of foot-and-mouth disease was confirmed in the country, and the Scottish Executive and NFU Scotland are now working on details about how to get the export ban lifted.

An NFU Scotland official said the three key requirements from Europe were:

&#8226 No disease for at least 12 weeks.

&#8226 Full cleansing and disinfection complete.

&#8226 Blood testing of sheep within 10km of infected premises complete.

"We are well on the way to meeting all these requirements," she said. "Our goal is to recover our lost export trade."

Scotland being allowed to go-it-alone would also benefit sheep producers in England and Wales, by easing the pressure on the domestic market, she said.

Any formal request to Brussels to allow exports from Scotland to resume would, however, have to be submitted by Margaret Beckett.

Reports that she will not be back at her desk at DEFRA for another five weeks have irritated NFU Scotland president Jim Walker intensely, as has the Prime Ministers apparent lack of interest in the industry since the general election.

"Tony Blair promised before the election that he would stand shoulder to shoulder with the farming industry as it struggled to recover from the effects of foot-and-mouth disease.

"But since he got back into power, hes been too busy to see us, despite requests for a meeting," says Mr Walker.

And although he acknowledges that getting the green light for sheep exports from Scotland will be difficult, because the disease situation in England and Wales is still not under control, it is something he is determined to fight for.

The plan is to work out details between the union and the executive about how a scheme might operate and then discuss it directly with officials in Brussels.

And by the time Mrs Beckett returns to her desk, the union hopes to have workable proposals to present to her for her endorsement. &#42