26 February 1998
EC postpones BSE battle plans
THE European Commission has averted a trade row with the United States after it postponed plans to toughen its abattoir measures in the fight against BSE.
The wide, sweeping ban on specified risk materials (SRM) was fiercely opposed by seven member states and the USA when it was announced in July last year. SRMs are items such as the head and spinal cord of cattle, sheep and goats, which are most likely to carry the disease.
The ban threatened billions of dollars of trade in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals – products which include cattle parts as part of their ingredients.
But part of Commissions controversial plans include an exemption clause on the removal of SRM for BSE-free countries.
The exemption could be applied to member states and to third countries which export meat to the European Union (EU). Countries seeking an exemption must apply and their individual case will be assessed over the next six months.
Britain, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Portugal and France have all admitted to having cases of BSE in their domestic herds. These countries are unlikely to be awarded an exemption from the rules, while the remaining eight EU countries stand a good chance.
But there are fears among veterinary experts that many countries on the Continent have grossly under-reported their true numbers of BSE cases.
In the meantime, countries admitting to BSE cases are obliged to introduce the lesser SRM controls while their applications are being assessed. The whole process is likely to delay the phasing-in of uniform controls until the end of the year. UK officials fear the latest developments will set up a two-tier system of controls throughout Europe.
The exemption clause follows heavy pressure from Germany, which has pushed for “BSE-free” status before it will consider voting for any easing of the worldwide ban on British beef exports.
UK agriculture minister Jack Cunningham said there was no question of the UK lifting its national SRM controls on imports until the Government was completely convinced the EU rules provided the necessary equivalent protection for consumers.
The Commission gave partial support for the UKs beef-on-the-bone ban. It indicated a ban on the sale of T-bone steaks could be extended to other countries.
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