17 September 1997
Early end to beef ban proposed for Northern Ireland
By Boyd Champness
THE beef export ban could be lifted in Northern Ireland in the near future – but farmers in the rest of the UK are going to have to wait until a computerised tracing system is up and running, following a meeting of European veterinary experts in Brussels today.
The Scientific Veterinary Committee meeting, which concluded at 5pm UK time this afternoon [Wednesday], discussed the UK Governments latest proposals for allowing the sale of meat under its revised certified herd scheme.
Although the committee agreed in principal that the risk of BSE being present in British beef was “no higher” than that of other EU countries, it still did not recommend an early lifting of the ban.
“A major stumbling block appears to be the lack of a comprehensive computerised movement and tracing system and associated database in Great Britain. An adequate system does appear to exist in Northern Ireland,” the committee said.
The committee therefore suggested that the export ban could be lifted in Northern Ireland as long as the Province adopted the revised measures to the certified herd scheme put forward by the UK delegation.
In June, the UK Government approached the committee with its initial proposals for the scheme, but the committee rejected them as inadequate.
However, the committee has now said it is satisfied with many of the changes the UK Government has included in its revised scheme. The only reason why it could not recommend an early lifting of the ban was because Britain didnt have a computerised tracing system, it said.
The UK Government now faces a political dilemma of whether to push for a lifting of the ban in Northern Ireland, while it maintains that all UK beef is safe.
If the Government decides to proceed it will have to make a formal application to the Veterinary Standing Committee, which is the highly political and parochial committee of EU member-state vets.
If the Veterinary Standing Committee cannot reach a firm decision on Northern Ireland, the matter is then handed over to the European Commission of farm ministers to make a decision.