15 November 1996

UFU call for selective NI cull rejected as a futile exercise

By Shelley Wright

GOVERNMENT has rejected the proposal from the Ulster Farmers Union for a farmer-funded selective cull in Northern Ireland.

Baroness Denton, the provinces farm minister, said this week that because such a scheme would not be compulsory, some farmers could refuse to allow their cattle to be culled. If that happened the exercise would be futile because Europe was unlikely to accept a partial cull as grounds for lifting the beef ban.

The UFU had said that if the government would not agree to a UK selective cull, then the NI farming and meat industries were prepared to consider funding their own in a desperate attempt to get the ban lifted (News, Nov 1).

But Baroness Denton stressed that government would not allow a separate deal for Northern Ireland, despite its pre-ban reliance on beef exports being far greater than the rest of the UK. The financial support that had kept Ulsters beef farmers afloat since March had come from the UK Treasury, she said. And Northern Irelands politicians and farmers could not take that money, as part of the UK, and then demand separate treatment when it came to lifting the ban.

The idea of a UK selective cull had not been abandoned, and discussions with Europe were continuing, especially in relation to the certified herd scheme. But Baroness Denton said there was no way of predicting when, or if, agreement would be reached, although she admitted that there was unlikely to be any progress before the New Year.

The more immediate problem was making sure beef farmers survived the winter. She said she had spoken to the banks in Northern Ireland and they had been "reasonably understanding". And she was not aware of any beef farmers who had been forced out of business by banks since March.

But provisional figures from the department of agriculture show that farm incomes have fallen by 4% in Ulster this year. An official said the drop, after a 91% rise over the past five years, was lower than many farmers had predicted, and indicated how valuable the government support package for the beef industry had been recently. The final income figures will be published later this month. &#42