03 March 1998
Government told to ease up on beef
By Boyd Champness
THE UK beef industry is in grave danger of becoming extinct unless the Government shelves its long term objectives and provides short term assistance to farmers, a top level report said today.
The House of Commons agriculture select committee – made up from a cross party assembly of MPs – fears Britain will have to import most of its beef if the current crisis is allowed to continue.
In its third report, UK Beef Industry, the committee concedes taxpayers money, that should have been spent on restructuring the industry, has been wasted. Past and present administrations have failed to introduce a clear long-term strategy to helped farmers recognise the need for change.
Nevertheless, the report calls on Government to review its plans for expenditure on BSE over the next two years to reflect the difficulties being faced by the beef and dairy sectors.
It calls on the Government to treat the industry “sympathetically” and not to introduce further reforms and cutbacks that are not consistent with other European member states.
“Our concern is, quite simply, that the industry could become too enfeebled to be able to restructure itself rationally. In this respect, the crisis in the beef industry demands a response from the Government which may be in conflict with what would be desirable for the industry in the long term,” the report says.
The report criticised MAFFs original intention to charge the livestock industry for the new specified risk material (SRM) controls and the cattle traceability scheme. Only last week the Government reversed its plan to impose both these charges on the industry.
It has also asked the Government to review the decision taken by the previous administration to cut rendering aid saying: “We recommend that the Government maintain a degree of financial support for the rendering industry until market conditions for beef by-products have become more favourable.”
Dr Jack Cunningham, agriculture minister, told the committee in November last year that the over-thirty-month scheme (OTMS) could slowly be eroded after February 1, 1999, following European Union acceptance of the Date Based Export Scheme (DBES).
The committee has suggested that Government link the phasing-out of the OTMS to the DBES and push this matter up the agenda of its discussions with Europe.
The committee said the Governments decision to impose the 560kg weight ceiling on OTMS payments last year has severely “discriminated” against specialist beef producers breeding larger cows. It said this situation should be redressed, and sees no reason why there cannot be a differential in compensation rates in favour of beef breed cull cows.
The calf processing aid scheme – which has now slaughtered over one million calves – also came under attack for being “distasteful”. The committee is concerned about the UK bearing the brunt of the EU-wide scheme designed to cut over-production. It fears the scheme may compromise the future prospects of the UK beef industry when conditions approaching normality return.
But the report wasnt a total criticism of government. The committee welcomed the developments in regard to the computerised cattle tracing system and the rapid introduction of a beef labelling scheme.
It also praised the Government for imposing unilateral SRM controls on imports, and its decision to look at an early retirement package to enable beef farmers to leave the industry.
It also acknowledged the hard work undertaken by ministers and staff to get the beef export ban lifted and suggested government should consider promoting UK beef in Europe once it ended – even though this went against government policy.