Germany added to Britain's BSE problems yesterday when Baerbel Hoehn, the agriculture minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, said the European Union should restore its "strict ban" on British beef in the light of the new evidence. Such a ban would overturn the progress made by John Major, in winning a framework for its removal by November, at the Florence summit six weeks ago.
The German proposal, which would delay the removal of the ban by at least a month, drew a furious reaction from British Euro-sceptic MPs. One accused Mrs Hoehn of "picking up any stick to beat us with".
The estimate for the extra cattle which may have to be incinerated came from the Meat and Livestock Commission, an industry lobbying body, which said that the figure would be necessary to deal with the problem of maternal transmission. The culling programme that had been presented to the EU proposed to kill 147,000 cattle, beginning in the autumn.
The Government has not made any official estimate of how many cattle might have to be added to the cull. But the news, from preliminary results of a seven-year trial, that BSE can be transmitted from mother to calf in up to 10 per cent of cases, will certainly lead to an extension of the programme. Government vets intend to review it this month.
Mrs Hoehn told BBC Radio 4 that the new research was "really shocking" and added: "I think we will prefer a strict ban against Britain at this moment."
Tory Eurosceptics hit out at her remarks. Sir Richard Body, MP for Holland with Boston, said: "The Germans have a beef surplus and they want to get rid of it. This is one way to do so. But it is time they turned their attention to France, where BSE exists and Switzerland."Reuse content