Ulster beef ban
over soon & UK
lifting to follow
By Philip Clarke
EXPORTS of beef from Northern Ireland should be under way in the first few days of June, and will be swiftly followed up with proposals for a UK-wide lifting of the ban linked to a date-based scheme.
Speaking in Newcastle this week, EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler said that Brussels would be setting the date for the resumption of sales from Northern Ireland imminently. It would then set procedures in motion for the date-based scheme, to allow exports of British beef from cattle born after Aug 1, 1996.
EU farm ministers, in Newcastle as guests of farm minister Jack Cunningham, were left in little doubt as to the need for an early resumption of trade. About 100 north-east livestock farmers greeted them with a noisy chorus of "Lift the beef ban" as they arrived for their informal council.
One of the farmers present, Thomas Liddell from Eslington Farms, Wittingham, explained that two years ago his break-even price was 105p/kg. Last week he got just 80p/kg for his finished bullocks and was facing a £50,000 loss for the year. "I know the £ is much to blame, but if we could get the ban lifted and export to those who want our beef, that would help."
But securing political acceptance will be a long haul. Dutch farm minister Jozias Van Aartsen told the farmers he would support their cause once Great Britain had the same (computerised) tracing system as Northern Ireland. That will not be until late September, when the British Cattle Movement Service is up and running.
German farm secretary, Franz-Josef Feiter, meanwhile, told journalists that, while the UK tracking system was Euro-compatible and suitable for product labelling, that did not mean it was enough to justify lifting the export ban.
Despite this, NFU president, Ben Gill, who led a delegation to meet the ministers, believed the date-based scheme could still be operational in time for the big autumn sales.
"We have met all the conditions of the Florence agreement. I can see no reason why we should not have the ban lifted within that time schedule."
The first step will be to put the date-based proposals to the standing veterinary committee in Brussels. If they fail to approve it, the scheme will then go to the full agriculture council for discussion, possibly in June, but more likely in July.
Meanwhile, Dr Cunningham insisted the government was doing all it could to get the ban lifted. "If you can think of something were not doing which you think we should be doing, then tell us and well do it," he told the farmers. "But were not in a situation of making demands here, were in a situation of negotiation."
Farm minister Jack Cunningham told farmers the government was doing all it could.