6 September 1996

Tory backbenchers threaten cull revolt

PRESSURE increased on the government to revise its selective slaughter policy after Tory backbench MPs warned they would reject the current proposals.

Backbench MPs welcomed the Oxford University report, which suggested that a cull of 44,000 animals would have much the same effect in reducing BSE cases as the governments proposals to slaughter 127,000 stock.

But others warned that if the European Commission failed to set up a timetable to lift the beef export ban, the UK would be forced to concentrate on building up its domestic beef industry and place restrictions on imports. Sir Jerry Wiggin (Con, Weston-Super-Mare), chairman of the agriculture select committee, said talks over the easing of the beef ban had been dictated by Euro-peans interested, not in science, but psychology and philosophy.

Sir Jerry said he felt the government would struggle to get the cohort scheme through the Comm-ons when MPs reconvened at the beginning of October, particularly if Labour MPs opposed the cull.

"The big question is whether we will get some clearer assurances from Europe. If not, we have to ask whether it is worth going down this expensive and unnecessary road of killing more cattle," he said. Sir James Spicer (Con, West Dorset) advocated one last round of negotiations with Brussels before imposing retaliatory measures on beef imports. "We should then pull down the shutters. No beef should be imported unless it has passed through abattoirs with the same tough anti-BSE specifications.

"By cutting the cull by half and concentrating on the home market, we could save more than £1bn over three years, which would enable us to give national support to those exporters who have lost out," he said.

Sir Richard Body (Con, Holland with Boston) said the UK government had been too lenient with Brussels and agreed it was now time to build up the home market. He said he hoped a meeting of the UKs farm unions in Cardiff next week would come to the same conclusion in the light of continuing intransigence shown by the German government. "The culls are devastating some of our best stock, which will take years to replace," he warned.

Reaction from opposition MPs to the reports findings was more muted. Shadow farm minister, Gavin Strang, who is to meet German Euro MPs on a visit to Strasbourg later this month, said the government should look at other arrangements to lift the ban. &#42

Tony McDougal