Beef import dangers

6 March 1998

Beef import dangers

UNLESS the government treats beef farmers sympathetically and ensures that any restructuring of the industry is done on an EU-wide basis, the doors will be open to a flood of beef imports to meet domestic demand, MPs have warned.

In its report on the UK beef industry, the cross-party Commons agriculture select committee said government should review its plans for BSE-related expenditure for the next two years to ensure that support reflected the balance of difficulties between the beef and dairy sectors.

The committee, comprising mainly Labour MPs, has also urged government to review the decision taken by the previous administration to axe state rendering aid. "We recommend that the government maintain a degree of financial support for the rendering industry until market conditions for beef by-products have become more favourable," the report said.

Other recommendations included phasing out the over-30-month scheme for cattle born after Aug 1, 1996.

Until then, the OTMS weight ceiling should be addressed. The MPs criticised governments decision last year to impose the 560kg payment limit.

They said it had severely discriminated against specialist beef producers and could see no reason why there could not be a differential in compensation that favoured beef cows over dairy culls.

Farming leaders welcomed the report. NFU president Ben Gill said: "Importantly, the document stresses that any restructuring of the beef industry must occur on a Europe-wide basis. This underlines the NFUs submission that Britain is currently responsible for most of the reduction in EU beef production."

He added that the union supported another of the committees recommendations, namely that if hill livestock compensatory allowances were to be frozen then an alternative strategy was required to provide financial security and stability to hill farmers.

A Scottish NFU spokesman said the report represented a vote of confidence in the future of the UK beef industry, provided the present problems could be overcome.

Farm minister Jack Cunningham welcomed the committees acknowledgement that the government had an "unenviable inheritance" bequeathed by the Conservatives in relation to BSE. He accepted many of the reports conclusions, particularly in relation to the need for restructuring on an EU basis.

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