01 May 1998
Ministers resist call to drop beef-on-bone ban
By Trevor Mason, Press Association
THE Government yesterday resisted fresh pressure to drop its ban on the sale of beef on the bone despite a court setback earlier this month.
Jeff Rooker, food safety minister, sidestepped a call from Lib-Dem agriculture spokesman Charles Kennedy to concede defeat and drop the ban.
At question time in the Commons, Mr Kennedy said the Government had fallen “flat on their faces in Selkirk Sheriff Court when the first prosecution under the ban was thrown out.
Welcoming the ruling, he asked: “Wouldnt it make sense, politically as well as commercially, to pull the plugs on the outstanding legal case the Government are now pursuing south of the border.”
This, he said, would enable people “on a billion-to-one risk” to make their own judgement on the issue.
But Mr Rooker responded by saying there had been letters in the Scottish press over the past two days supporting the Governments position.
Labours Dr Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy) said 24 people had already died from nvCJD, and that it was premature to call for an end to the ban when scientists are still unsure about the diseases incubation period.
He said it could involve hundreds or tens of thousands of people and urged ministers to maintain the ban and not be deflected by “the stupidity of the Opposition or the mendacity of the press”.
Meanwhile, Scottish National Partys Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale) claimed travel company Airtours had a policy of selling only Argentinean beef on in-flight meals.
“Isnt this a scandal at a time when the beef industry is under such severe pressure and will you undertake to make urgent representations to them so they lift their ban on British beef,” he asked.
Mr Rooker replied: “Yes, it is a disgrace. There is no justification for that policy. If you care to write to me I will follow it up.”
In other developments, Dr Jack Cunningham, agriculture minister, said the database scheme to allow for the export of cattle born after 1 August, 1996 was on target. He said he hoped the European Commission, which was in charge of a lifting the export ban, would bring a proposal before the EUs Standing Veterinary Committee next month.
Plaid Cymru President Dafydd Wigley asked the minister whether all other EU member states supported the scheme.
Dr Cunningham replied: “It is the accepted procedure but whether all member states are happy with it remains to be seen. But if the scheme is approved it will be the beginning of the end of the ban on beef.”
He added that the Prime Minister was right to be “cautiously optimistic” because Britain still needed the qualified majority of all other member states votes.