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Sunday, 8 March, 1998, 11:13 GMT
Government battles for British beef
carcases
British beef farmers still face the export ban
The worldwide ban on the export of British beef imposed by the European Union following the outbreak of BSE has had far-reaching consequences.

BSE, often called Mad Cow Disease, has remained high on the political agenda for the Labour Government which came to power in May 1997.

The new Agriculture Minister, Jack Cunningham, said that Britain might ban imports of beef from Germany and other EU countries which did not observe Britain's strict abattoir hygiene controls.

He gave EU ministers until July 22 - the following council meeting of EU farm ministers - to agree to tougher controls throughout the community.

Food hygiene

In Europe, efforts were made to improve food hygiene. The European Union began a legal action against 10 countries - Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Italy and Portugal - for breaching EU rules on BSE.

This supported UK Government warnings that the public was eating foreign beef which did not meet the same strict health controls as British meat.

Germany and Belgium have led opposition to a European ban, claiming that countries with little or no BSE should not be forced to take the same expensive measures as Britain.

Bid to end ban

In June 1997, proposals for ending the ban on beef put forward by the UK Government, were dismissed as inadequate by EU veterinary experts.

The proposal, put forward by the last Conservative government, was for a computer system of herd identification and traceability - a system in place in Northern Ireland and being extended elsewhere in the UK.

EU experts pinpointed five key concerns about the proposed arrangements for tagging animals and monitoring them from birth to death. They called for:

  • more evidence that the identification and traceability system can be effectively authenticated.
  • confirmation that tracing will include live animals.
  • a well-controlled disinfecting system for the slaughter and de-boning process.
  • measures to be taken at all times to prevent cross-contamination and the mixing of meat.
  • better clarification of how controls will be carried out under veterinary supervision.

Setbacks for the beef industry

Prospects of a lift in the ban seemed good in September 1997, when the EU scientific veterinary committee broadly accepted a scheme to allow beef exports from herds which had been BSE-free for eight years.

But there was a further setback when the European Commission reported on September 24 that illegal British beef was being exported to Germany.

Pressure was also building for the UK Government to do more to help beef farmers who were being affected by the ban.

In December 1997, there were widespread demonstrations by farmers at the ports of Fishguard, Hollyhead, Anglesey and Stranraer against cheaper beef imports from Ireland.

The government later responded by providing a one-off payment of 85m.

beef on bone
Beef on the bone banned by the government
But there was more bad news for beef farmers and butchers when the government announced that it was to ban the sales of all beef sold on the bone, such as T-bone steaks.

The move followed fears that swellings around the spinal column could pass on the infection.

Northern Ireland ban

The prospect of the ban being lifted for at least a small number of farmers improved in March 1998. EU vets voted 10-4 in favour of allowing exports to begin from Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has a unique database which has traced the movement of cattle in the province over the last decade.

The vets decided it was safe to export Northern Irish beef as herds there had been free of BSE for more than eight years.

The final decision for the lifting of the ban is being made by EU farm ministers.

See also:

04 Mar 98 | UK
08 Mar 98 | BSE
08 Mar 98 | BSE
16 Mar 98 | BSE
Links to more BSE stories are at the foot of the page.


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