Appeal to ease beef ban quashed by EU

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The Independent Online
EU scientists gave the thumbs down yesterday to Britain's appeal for a first easing of the beef ban. After weeks of deliberation the EU scientific veterinary committee returned a damning verdict on proposals tabled by the last agriculture minister Douglas Hogg for the resumption of beef exports from healthy, grass-fed UK herds.

The committee raised hopes that Northern Ireland farmers might meet the conditions for a return to trade but insisted it was up to Britain to make the case for separate treatment, something the last government repeatedly refused to do, fearing a backlash in Scotland.

The scientists expressed deep misgivings about Britain's ability to implement a watertight system for tracing healthy animals and criticised huge gaps in the information supplied by Maff. There were numerous "imprecise statements" and "omissions" according to the report, while some claims are dismissed as "simply not true".

Guarantees that information on the movements of healthy cattle is reliable, or indeed that feed being used by British farmers is free from cattle remains, are absent, the report said.

The scientists also said that uncertainty remains about the possibility of BSE being transmitted from cows to their calves. Jack Cunningham the new Agriculture Minister is expected to come under intense pressure from Northern Ireland to go to Brussels to make the case for special treatment for Ulster, based on the province's computerised cattle-tracing system, which is unique in the UK.

Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, has repeatedly said he would consider such a plan, given the absence of a land border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

His hand will be strengthened by the revelation yesterday that the European Commission is to take four European governments to court for failing to take action to stamp out BSE.

The move appears to vindicate Mr Cunningham's claim that health precautions in other countries are weaker than in Britain. Mr Cunningham threatened to ban beef from the 10 countries which are defying scientific advice on the removal of offal.

France, Germany, Sweden and Spain have officially been accused of failing to apply EU rules on rendering animal waste, which in some cases ends up as cattle feed. In a report to the European Parliament, only Britain and Luxembourg are given a clean bill of health.