1 November 1996

Ulster could go it alone on selective cull to beat ban

By Shelley Wright

ULSTER farmers are prepared to fund their own selective cull in the province if the government continues to refuse to go ahead with the UK accelerated slaughter policy agreed as part of the Florence deal.

Greer McCollum, president of the Ulster Farmers Union, in Luxembourg this week for the EU farm ministers talks, said that farmers and the meat industry in Northern Ireland were desperate to get the beef export ban lifted.

"And we are prepared to take the gamble of doing the selective cull, without any guarantees from Europe, because we need to do everything we possibly can to try and move forward."

He stressed that his union would prefer a UK-wide solution to the beef ban, and agreed with the NFU and the Scottish union that the certified herd scheme offered the first hope of progress. But the only way to achieve any relaxation of the ban was to implement a selective cull. If the government continued with its refusal to go ahead, then Mr McCollum said the industry in Northern Ireland was seriously considering funding its own cull.

An estimated 1600 cattle in Ulster would be involved, and Mr McCollum said that they could be traced immediately with the provinces computerised identification system. Abattoirs had agreed that they would temporarily stop slaughtering animals in the over 30-month scheme (OTMS) to allow the selective cull to be completed as quickly as possible.

"In Northern Ireland we dont have to get legislation from the British parliament to go ahead with our cull. But obviously we would need the full support of our department of agriculture so that we can get access to the herd records and to convince Europe that the cull is done properly," he said.

Paid OTMSrate

The cattle involved would be paid the OTMS rate, with industry cash, estimated at about £1m, used to top up the payments for more valuable animals. The proposal has been submitted to Northern Irelands farm minister Baroness Denton for consideration.

But the NFU and Scottish NFU both insisted that it was up to government, and not farmers, to pay for the selective cull.

Ben Gill, NFU deputy president said that farmers bore no responsibility for the BSE problem so there was no question that they should have to pay. And a Scottish NFU official agreed that it was up to government to compensate farmers for any animals removed in a selective cull.