22 July 1997
EUs abattoir vote goes down to the wire
A DECISION on whether European farm ministers would support a proposal to introduce anti-BSE rules for EU abattoirs looked like going down to the wire last night.
Early reports from Brussels suggested that the decision might fall in favour of UK farm minister Dr Jack Cunningham and the European Commission, which have both called for the new rules to be imposed throughout the EU.
EC farm commissioner Franz Fischler has pleaded with agricultural ministers to approve the rigorous anti-BSE rules, already imposed by Britain, to remove all specified risk material from cattle and sheep at slaughter.
Farm ministers have adjourned until later tonight, but Brussels correspondent Amanda Cheesley reports that there are currently six countries in favour, six against and three wavering.
Those opposed include Germany, Austria, Greece, Belgium, Italy and Denmark, while those in favour include the UK, France, Luxembourg, Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands – with Portugal, Spain and Finland wavering.
Officials believe that the proposal will be passed because under the EUs complex rules the EC will be able to push through the measures unless eight ministers vote against it. EC officials are currently trying to make amendments to the proposals, such as delaying the introduction date, in a bid to woo the wavering countries.
Last week, the EUs standing veterinary committee, which has a representative of each member state, rejected the proposal by eight votes to seven. But if the proposal is supported by EU farm ministers tonight it would be seen as a big coup for the UK.
Dr Cunningham has maintained that the UK would unilaterally ban European beef and lamb imports if EU partners fail to introduce the measures and clean up their abattoirs. However, the opposing member states argue that its unfair for the far-reaching regulations to be imposed on them when they have a very low incidence of BSE.