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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 05:49 GMT 06:49 UK
Welsh beef heads for Europe
The consignment was sent from St Merryn meat
The first consignement of beef from the UK to be sold in Europe since the foot-and-mouth crisis is on its way from south Wales.

After being banned for 19 months because of the disease, the first carcases for export are leaving from the St Merryn meat plant in Merthyr Tydfil bound for Holland.

Mike German, Assembly Deputy First Minister
Mike German: Re-launch of Welsh beef exports

But the container load is being deliberately labelled "Welsh" instead of "British" in an attempt to beat the stigma attached to British beef.

Earlier this week, Welsh beef exporters were given a lift when the French food standards agency recommended dropping a lengthy ban on UK imports, imposed amid fears about BSE.

Producers have lost millions of pounds in orders to countries such as France and Holland, following the collapse of the export market.

Mr German earlier stamped the first batch of beef to be processed under the new Date Based Export Scheme (DBES).

Beef carcasses
Beef will be stamped with a Welsh mark

Cattle from farms across Wales will now be processed, ready for shipment to the Netherlands next week.

For the first time, the beef will be stamped as Welsh rather than British.

John Dracup, of St Merryn Meat, said the consignment was a "major step forward".

Mr German added: "It is important for us in Wales to be able to label the beef, so that just as Angus beef has become known round the world, so will Welsh beef."

Mike Thomas, of Welsh Lamb and Beef Promotions, said: "We have the safest beef in the world and it is a comfortable feeling knowing we have been through such rigorous tests."

The beef industry in Wales was only just recovering from the BSE crisis - exporting 10m of beef during the year 2000 - when the foot-and-mouth outbreak struck.

Farmers' Union of Wales and National Farmers' Union Cymru have welcomed the move, believing a Welsh stamp on joints of beef will prove crucial to reviving the lucrative export market.

FUW president Bob Parry hopes Welsh beef will begin to make a major comeback in France when exhibitors attend a key food event in Paris next month.

Disease in Wales
70,000 slaughters on infected premises
216,000 slaughters due to dangerous contact
833,000 slaughters for welfare reasons
Cost to Defra: 102m
Average farm clean-up: 44,000
Loss to producers: 65m
Loss to food industry: 25m
Cost to UK private sector: 5bn
Total lost UK GDP: 0.2%

Mr Parry said the resumption of exports - worth millions of pounds each year to Welsh farmers - could also trigger a vital stabilisation in livestock prices and see farmers' depleted incomes rise.

He said the October 24 Paris food fayre was a key stepping stone for Welsh beef exports.

And NFU Cymru president Peredur Hughes said France now had no other option but to lift the ban.

There have been no exports of beef up to now from Britain since February 2001, following the 8bn farming crisis.

The St Merryn plant, which employs 1,000 workers, has become the first in the country to meet new European requirements enabling it to process beef for export.

Export market

Now the industry is hoping to resurrect its trade with other European countries.

The export of 2,466 live lambs through Dover to Holland marked a significant breakthrough for the rural economy.

Around two million lambs were exported from Wales annually before the foot-and-mouth crisis, a trade worth around 100m per year.

The export of live animals from the UK was suspended during last year's foot-and-mouth crisis in an effort to prevent the disease spreading to the continent.

The ban on sheep and pig exports was lifted earlier this year and a shipment of pigs for breeding has already taken place.

BBC Wales' Melanie Doel
"The St Merryn consignment is a significant boost to Welsh farmers"

More from south east Wales
See also:

15 Jul 02 | Wales
06 Nov 01 | Wales
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