MAFFcertified herd scheme is shrugged off by farm leaders
By Shelley Wright
GOVERNMENTS plans for a certified herd scheme, aimed at paving the way for a lifting of the beef export ban, have been dismissed by farmers leaders as impractical and restrictive.
Consultation on MAFFs proposals ended last week and the UKs farming unions insist that without radical changes the scheme will create an unacceptable two-tier market. They warn that the restrictive joining terms would exclude most farmers. That in turn could in turn lead to abattoirs being reluctant to handle certified animals because of the limited throughput.
Greer McCollum, president of the Ulster Farmers Union, insisted that herds that had never had BSE should not be disqualified from the scheme just because they had bought-in an animal that had previously been on a farm where there had been a case of BSE.
"Certainly you should exclude that one beast – it shouldnt be certified. But there is no reason why the rest of the herd should not be eligible," he said. The NFU has already held talks with MAFF on that point and believes that government will accept the argument.
There is also widespread concern that, under the proposals, any herd which has had a case of BSE would be banned permanently from the scheme. "Even prisoners know they will get out of prison sometime. Farms where there has been BSE should be allowed into the certified scheme as soon as they have gone six years without a recorded case," Mr McCollum said.
The NFU agreed, but has told government that four years, rather than six, should be used. Kate Trotman, the NFUs beef and sheep adviser, said that the scheme should either allow the four-year qualifying time or allow all cattle born after Aug 1, 1996, to be certified, regardless of the status of their herds. That was the date when the total ban on meat and bonemeal came into force.
Exports are aim
Ms Trotman insisted that the point of the certified herd scheme was to provide beef for export. But there was a "very real danger" that domestic retailers could start insisting that they too would only take beef from certified cattle. vast numbers of producers could find themselves abandoned.
The Farmers Union of Wales added that the industry had spent the past 10 months trying to convince consumers that British beef was not blighted. But it feared the governments proposals could destroy that message by dividing the market into certified and non-certified herds.
Wholesalers point to meat assurance
TOUGHER farm assurance involving compulsory licensing of all beef and sheep producers, hauliers and auctioneers will be needed to maintain consumer confidence, say the beef and sheep committees of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers.
Position statements, released by both committees to prompt discussion among members and other parts of the supply chain, give top priority to 100% compulsory accredited farm assurance and full traceability of all stock to farm of origin.
Both papers also raise concern over future red meat supplies in relation to potential demand and overcapacity in the slaughter industry. The beef statement notes that there will be no cow beef available for the foreseeable future and warns that the future beef supply is being destroyed by the calf processing scheme. It warns that intervention is taking 4000-5000 cattle off the market each week and serious uncertainty threatens to reduce the number of suckler herds.
The beef committee believes that money spent on intervention should be diverted to top-up payments, allowing market and retail prices to fall temporarily and beef consumption to rise as a result.
It also suggests the calf processing scheme should be abandoned or aid cut to £50 for all male calves. Extra aid should given to suckler herds and the 30-month age limit for cattle entering the human food chain progressively lifted to 42 months as the mature beef scheme develops. The ban on imports of beef from over 30-month cattle from EU countries with no specified bovine material ban must also be effectively policed.
Flock size increase
The Federations sheep committee wants an increase in the national ewe flock and better understanding among farmers of the need for quality.
To help achieve this it suggests support should be shifted from ewe-based to lamb quality-based payments and the use of better quality rams encouraged.
The statement also calls for a halt to live exports, the introduction of sensible, practical welfare regulations from farm to slaughter and a scrapie eradication programme. Other recommendations include better grading at auction marts and a different system for reporting market prices to ensure they are not abused by retailers.
Ulster beef push
NORTHERN Irelands agriculture department has stepped up its efforts to get beef from the province back on the international market.
Agricultural attaches from nine EU countries visited Northern Ireland to see for themselves the computerised cattle traceability system. The province hopes he system will allow it to benefit first from any relaxation of the beef ban. The attaches also met Ulster farmers leaders and Northern Irelands farm minister, Baroness Denton.
Greer McCollum, president of the Ulster Farmers Union, believed the visit had been worthwhile. "The visitors reinforced the willingness of Europe to accept our (Northern Irelands) beef. They were very impressed with the traceability system and they saw for themselves the opportunity for Northern Ireland to be the first part of the UK to get back into the export markets."
But Mr McCollum was keen to avoid more arguments with his Scottish counterparts who believe that if the beef ban is relaxed for Ulster then the rest of the UK will be left out in the cold because of Britains lack of computerised traceability.
"We dont want to steal their export markets. All we would be doing is pushing the door open and the rest of the UK could then follow us," said Mr McCollum.
And he pointed out that there was perhaps more danger for the rest of the UK if Northern Ireland was not allowed to resume its beef exports. Before the beef ban, the province sold about 80% of its beef outside Northern Ireland. "And if we cant sell outside the UK then it means that we will be forced to focus all our attention on the British market," he warned.
• The Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland hopes to have its selective cull completed within the next two months. Official vets started visiting farms this week to identify cohorts and discuss compensation terms with the farmers.
First BSEin Germany?
GERMAN officials are investigating a suspected case of BSE which, if confirmed, would be the first in an animal born and reared in the country.
Four cases of BSE in Germany have been confirmed in recent years – all in cattle imported from the UK. The case now under investigation is in an animal born in Germany in 1992 to a Galloway cow imported from Britain.
Dr Richard Peters, agricultural counsellor at the German Embassy in London, said the use of meat and bonemeal in ruminant feed had been banned in Germany in 1990. There would be speculation about maternal transfer if BSE was confirmed, he said. But it would be impossible to draw any conclusions from just one case.
Germany still allows brain and spinal cord from cattle to enter the human food chain, and no change is expected.
Dr Peters did not believe that one case of BSE would change that policy.
Non-certified cattle could be left without a market, the NFUhas warned.