New threat as EC supports endingBritish beef ban

11 June 1998

New threat as EC supports ending
British beef ban

THE European Commission unanimously gave its support yesterday for the resumption of British beef exports – more than two years after imposing the ban.

But The Independent says new data reported in New Scientist today, showing “subclinical” infection in many animals, could deal a blow to reviving Britains £500 million beef export industry.

The Commissions proposal would allow for exports of British beef from cattle free of BSE and born after 1 August, 1996 – the date when the meat and bone meal was banned on all farms.

It was the best news for British farmers since the ban was imposed by Brussels on March 27, 1996. However, Dr Jack Cunningham, agriculture minister, pointed out that it was only a proposal and there were tough negotiations ahead. He said some of the conditions attached were “unnecessary and difficult.”

These included a stipulation that only deboned fresh meat can be exported. Although the UK has banned the sales of beef bones, it does not believe an EU constraint is justified.

Only meat from animals older than six months and younger than 30 months can be exported. And in a bid to ensure maternal transmission doesnt occur, calves of BSE-affected animals would have to be slaughtered.

But new data from a Swiss study, appearing in todays New Scientist reveals that for every animal with BSE, 100 more may be harbouring a “silent” form of the illness. It suggests that many cattle, which now go into food or are used to make feed, are in fact still infectious even though they show no sign of BSE.

But The Guardian says that if that number held true in Britain, there would have been more than 450,000 cattle struck down by the disease last year.

The Ministry of Agriculture said it was planning to test how cattle could have BSE without displaying the classic symptoms.

Franz Fischler, European Union agriculture commissioner, said yesterday that the Commission felt British beef was safe. Ben Gill, National Farmers Union president, said he hoped the ban on British beef exports would be lifted by autumn at the very latest. UK beef exports were worth £500m a year until the ban was imposed.

The Commissions scheme to end the ban will be considered tomorrow by the European Unions standing veterinary committee which has the authority to give final approval. The Financial Times says it is unlikely to use that authority tomorrow and it is more likely to refer the matter to farm ministers after weeks or months of consideration. The cost of the beef ban in the UK is believed to have reached £1.5-£2bn – and at least 1,000 direct jobs.

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