10 September 1999

Two-year wait for live cattle exports – NFU

By Isabel Davies

EXPORTS of live cattle from the UK are unlikely to resume for at least two years, according to the NFU.

Speaking at Guildford market last week, NFU deputy president Tony Pexton said: "Although farmers have called for live exports to restart, under the terms of the Florence agreement the UK is unable to export until the number of cases of BSE falls below 200 a year."

The Florence deal was struck by the EU ministers in June 1996 and set out the framework for a progressive lifting of the export ban on British beef.

Although there has been a sharp decline in the number of BSE cases since then, it is estimated that it will take until at least 2001-02 for the number to fall below 200. Latest MAFF figures show there are still about 55 cases reported each week.

Mr Pexton insisted the union was exploring all the alternatives, which included encouraging continental buyers to consider rearing dairy calves for veal in this country. 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 that it is legal under EU rules.