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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
Market for UK beef 'to take time'
Beef being prepared
Export orders have already been received from other countries
The European market for UK beef will take time to rebuild after the lifting of a 10-year ban imposed because of mad cow disease, farmers have been warned.

Agriculture Minister Lord Bach said: "It is not going to be easy anywhere in Europe to turn on the tap again."

Exports to France, previously the largest buyer of British beef, are set to resume on Thursday following the lifting of local restrictions.

The EU ban was lifted because of a fall in UK cases of BSE, or mad cow disease.

The industry says exports used to be worth 650m a year.

Live cattle born after 1 August 1996 can now be exported, as can beef from cattle slaughtered after 15 June 2005.

Restrictions will remain for beef containing vertebral material and for beef sold on the bone, while some EU states have yet to amend laws to allow UK imports.

The Netherlands, Greece and Italy are expected to be the first major markets for British beef, with orders from foreign buyers already received.

We can't expect everything to happen at once but the prize is a huge one
Maurice McCartney
British Meat Processors Association

Lord Bach said: "France was a very important importer of British beef up until the ban. From what I am told, there is clearly a market for it.

"But it is not going to be easy anywhere in Europe to turn on the tap again. We have got to work on it, and we've got to work on it in France."

Maurice McCartney, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said: "This is a first step. We can't expect everything to happen at once but the prize is a huge one."

And John Cross, chairman of the English Beef and Lamb Executive, said: "The whole of our beef industry can allow itself just one good sigh of relief and then be ready [for] a monumental push to put our beef back where it belongs - on the plates of consumers around the world."

Price warning

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) and the RSPCA have protested against a return to live cattle exports, claiming the animals suffer during long journeys.

CIWF also claims calves reared for veal are kept in worse conditions on the Continent, including in "veal crates" which lack room for the animal to turn round and are banned in the UK.

We anticipate some resistance but it is well known that the French particularly liked British beef
National Farmers' Union
Vegan campaign group Viva! plans a demonstration in Dover, Kent, following the export of the first live calves.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) has called on UK exporters not to send animals to European buyers that use veal crates.

It has also warned that increased overseas demand could push up beef prices in UK supermarkets.

Reputation

The union said British beef had long had a reputation in France for its quality.

But with many restaurants now using French-reared cuts or imports from other countries, reports have suggested some may be reluctant to switch back.

"It's all about rebuilding confidence," said a spokesman for the NFU.

"We anticipate some resistance but it is well known that the French particularly liked British beef, especially Parisian restaurants."

Beef producer Richard Phelps, who farms in Wiltshire, told BBC News that the end of the restrictions was great news.

"The lifting of this ban has a huge impact on our business and a very positive one.

"Over the last 10 years, we've been restricted as to where we can sell our beef.

"We're now really pleased that another big customer, Europe, is coming back on to the marketplace."


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