British beef to be sold on the Continent again

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The Independent Online
British beef is on the way back to Continental supermarket shelves for the the first in almost two years under new Brussels proposals to relax the world-wide ban imposed in March 1996. But convincing EU governments to expose their shoppers to "safe" British meat could take many more months.

The first real sign of hope for beleaguered British farmers looks set to appear tomorrow. At their meeting in Strasbourg, European Commissioners are expected to back a British plan which would allow exports of beef from healthy animals.

The commission's proposal will have to win the support of a majority of the 15 EU governments and even the most sympathetic - the Dutch and the Irish - admit this will be a battle.

But commission support for the so called "certified herds" scheme represents a breakthrough and will help the Government to claim it has won the argument for science to rule over commercial considerations.

In practice, Northern Irish beef would be the only meat eligible for export under the terms of the scheme hammered out between London and Brussels during negotiations which have gone on for months. After consulting its scientific advisers, the commission is insisting on strict criteria, which mean that only Northern Irish beef could be certified "BSE free."

Ulster farmers have long pointed to the low incidence of BSE in the province and to the fact that most herds there are grass fed, to support their demands for a regional solution which would give them special treatment. This has annoyed their Scottish competitors who can also boast grass-fed herds.

Ulster's trump card is a computerised central database for tracking cattle movements.

- Katherine Butler, Brussels