Letter: Doubts on UK beef

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The British media have referred to two matters which delay agreement on beef imports to France. It is implied that these concern mere technicalities, and that the French are making a fuss about nothing. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Firstly, traceability of cattle. When a new calf is born here its owner is responsible for putting the identity tag in its ear. In France, no farmer is trusted to do this, as I know from seven years in France with 14 suckler cows. Each year a Ministry of Agriculture man arrived; he tagged the calves and entered their detailed particulars in triplicate in my log book.

My vet, on receiving his copy, gave me green tickets for each calf, and when I sold the calves, these tickets had to travel with them. Drivers feared fines if they departed with even one green ticket missing.

A central computer covering France has recorded all this for a long time, but a similar system has existed here only since the CJD panic, and it is still not working reliably.

Then there are slaughterhouse conditions. Here, local authorities send inspectors to ensure that slaughter takes place correctly. It is common knowledge that there are not enough funds for inspectors, and that often the slaughterhouse workers (in a hurry) prefer to keep inspectors as far off as possible. There is intimidation.

The French believe that in these circumstances it is likely that the necessary checks cannot all get made, that defective meat of all kinds can get through, and that the British performance is haphazard if not slovenly.

The beef men have no chance of getting their carcasses to France and the other nervous importers of our meat while questions remain about traceability and the standards in our abattoirs.


Bridport, Dorset