Ulster one step closer to resuming beef exports

04 March 1998

Ulster one step closer to resuming beef exports

By Philip Clarke in Brussels and Boyd Champness

EUROPEAN veterinary experts today rejected Northern Irelands bid to get the beef export ban lifted on cattle under its certified herd scheme.

But Ulster officials and farmer leaders are quietly confident that the council of farm ministers will approve the proposal when they meet next on March 16.

A vote on the scheme was taken at todays standing veterinary committee in Brussels. But the vets failed to achieve a sufficient majority for the proposal to become law when four out of 15 member states voted against it.

Under the proposal, exports may resume from Northern Ireland for de-boned beef from animals aged between six and 30 months which are from herds certified as “BSE-free” for at least eight years.

Germany, Belgium, Spain and Luxembourg all voted against it with France abstaining because it had problems with some of the technical aspects of the scheme.

Ulster Farmers Union spokesman Trevor Lockhart said if member states had looked at the science behind the scheme – instead of voting on political, economic and party lines – then the proposal would have received the necessary votes to be approved.

Mr Lockhart said he wasnt surprised by todays vote and just hopes that it can be repeated at farm council in two weeks. Under the voting rules of farm council, proposals only need the support of eight members states out of 15 to become law.

“I suppose we can take heart from the fact that more member states voted in favour of the scheme in todays standing veterinary committee than expected before the meeting,” he said.

Dr Jack Cunningham, agriculture minister, said the result was “encouraging” and had France voted in favour, rather than abstaining, then the scheme would have obtained the necessary qualified majority for it to be approved.

“To win by ten votes to four, with one abstention, in the standing veterinary committee should mean that we have a good chance of securing a majority in favour at farm council,” he said.

The move is the first breakthrough for British beef farmers since Brussels imposed the worldwide ban in March 1996 in response to consumer fears that BSE would spread across Europe.

In a related issue, the vets also rejected Commission plans to ban the specified risk materials (SRMs) from the human food chain (see EU wide SRM rules delayed again).

Latest proposals sought to extend the range of materials covered to include the vertebral column and the dorsal root ganglia, while offering exemptions to countries with no history of BSE.

This has proved unacceptable, both to countries already implementing controls – the UK, France and Ireland – and to those seeking to avoid them namely Germany, Austria and Finland.

Some rapid redrafting will be required if the plan is to have any chance of success at the next Council meeting in 10 days time.

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