Beef ban to stay until next year

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THE BAN on British beef exports will not be lifted until well into the new year because Britain will first have to initiate a final cull of another 4,000 cattle.

European agriculture ministers are expected to allow the removal of the embargo on Monday, but Britain will still have put into place legislation for another compulsory cull, and pass an EU inspection.

The European Commission's proposal to lift the ban would allow the UK to export deboned meat from animals born after 1 August 1996, and aged between 6 and 30 months. These could not have eaten contaminated foodstuff which had, by then, been banned in the UK.

But one of the conditions of the embargo being lifted is a further cull of the offspring of cows with BSE, prompted by fears that the disease may be transmitted from mother to calf. Of 4,756 cows identified as having been born to BSE- carrying cows, about 600 have already been slaughtered.

After Monday's meeting, the Government will need legislation to order a compulsory cull. The Commission will then set a date for the lifting of the ban to follow the EU inspection, possibly in February,

Ministers are optimistic about the prospects of achieving a result on Monday, partly because of a narrow vote in a recent meeting of European veterinary experts.

The lifting of the embargo would have a big impact on farmers because most of the beef exported is from young animals. Selected beef exports from Northern Ireland were approved earlier this year under a separate scheme.