|Author (Person)||Neligan, Myles|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.4, No.32, 10.9.98, p7|
|Content Type||Journal | Series | Blog|
A EUROPEAN Commission report on practices in the UK beef industry has given London fresh hope of a rapid relaxation of the 1996 ban on British beef exports.
Experts say that the report, drawn up last month by a team of EU veterinary inspectors, does much to allay the concerns of Union governments which raised technical objections to the latest move to lift the ban in July.
"The report is generally positive, and makes it clear that the potential obstacles identified by other EU countries are not that serious," said one UK diplomat.
A proposal currently under consideration by the Union's Standing Veterinary Committee (SVC) would allow exports of beef from animals born after August 1996, when feeding practices associated with the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) became a criminal offence in the UK.
In July, a majority of the national veterinary chiefs on the committee refused to vote on the plan until they received additional assurances over the traceability of parents of BSE-infected animals and the segregation of export-certified beef from meat destined for the domestic market. Last month's round of veterinary inspections in the UK was intended to address these concerns.
The SVC got its first chance to study the report at yesterday's (9 September) meeting. Commission officials expect the national experts to be ready to vote on the proposal by the first week of November and say that the veterinary report makes a positive decision more likely. "The report basically says that the date-based export scheme is perfectly feasible," said one.
If there is a qualified majority in favour of lifting the ban within the committee, beef from mainland UK could be back on EU supermarket shelves by the end of the year. In the absence of a clinching majority, or in the event of an outright rejection, the matter will be referred to EU agriculture ministers for a final decision. But while a positive decision may now be more likely, UK diplomats remain cautious, pointing out that so far only Sweden and Ireland have declared their backing for the proposal.
London is also planning to redouble its efforts to gain support for another initiative aimed at getting the ban on beef exports lifted after 28 September, when a UK computerised cattle-tracing system comes on stream. This system should enable the British authorities to set up segregated herds of guaranteed BSE-free cattle, which would then be eligible for export. "It's the second front in our campaign to get the ban lifted," said a UK diplomat.
Meanwhile, the Commission was this week quick to play down warnings from a UK scientific expert that mad cow disease may have spread to sheep.
In response to suggestions that BSE eradication measures should be extended to sheep, a spokesman for Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said that the Commission would act only if there was conclusive scientific evidence of a risk to human health.
But he added that experts on the EU Scientific Steering Committee would consider the potential risk of BSE contamination affecting sheep at their next meeting on 24 September. In addition, sheep will be included in a forthcoming proposal to ban BSE-contaminated livestock offals, due out later this month.
|Subject Categories||Business and Industry|