10 June 1998
EC backs Britains plans to end beef ban
By Philip Clarke in Brussels and FWi staff
THE UK moved one step closer to having its global beef export ban lifted today (Wednesday) when the European Commission unanimously supported Britains date based scheme.
Franz Fischler, EC agriculture commissioner, said the unanimous decision was a vote of confidence in British beef and the safety measures put in place by the UK Government.
However, Mr Fischler said it was impossible to set a date when trade could resume because there were a number of procedural hurdles still to be crossed.
Under the date-based scheme, the UK will be allowed to export deboned beef from animals born after 1 August, 1996 – the date when meat and bonemeal was banned from all farms. To be eligible, the animal must be able to show all movement records, either on passport or computer, and must be more than six months old, but less than 30 months.
In accepting the scheme, the EC demanded a number of changes to the UK proposal – the main one being the compulsory slaughter of offspring of BSE cases. And there must be evidence that the dam survived six months after the birth of the animal from which the meat is derived. This additional precaution is to guard against the possibility of maternal transmission, Mr Fischler said.
The date-based scheme has already been accepted in principle by European scientific advisers. It will now be passed on to the Standing Veterinary Committee, which meets on Friday (12 June).
The vets could, in theory, bring an end to the ban on Friday – in one sitting – if a 71% majority support it. However, because of the sensitivity of the issue, this is unlikely. The committee is expected to set up working parties to examine the proposal more closely.
Even then a vote is unlikely. Most officials believe that the committee will shy away from making the hard decision and pass it to the farm council, where a similar majority verdict will be required.
This is unlikely to happen before the summer recess, and probably not until after the German elections in September.
Jack Cunningham, agriculture minister, said the commissions decision to back Britains proposal was “excellent news” for the countrys beef farmers, who have suffered as a result of the ban over the past two years.
“It vindicates the positive, constructive and open approach we have taken on BSE in our relations with all the institutions of the European Union,” he said.
“But this is only a proposal. It will now be considered by the EU Standing Veterinary Committee. There will be a tough negotiation ahead.
“Some conditions in the proposal seem unnecessary and cause us difficulties. We shall work hard in the coming weeks for a scheme which fits the scientific advice, and permits real trade to resume as rapidly as possible,” he added.