Computer tracking could end beef ban

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The Independent Online
THE WORLDWIDE ban on British beef should be lifted by the end of this year following the introduction of a pounds 35m computerised cattle tracking system, the Government announced yesterday.

The Agriculture minister, Jeff Rooker, said that the new project, due to begin next month, would offer the final reassurance that the nation's beef was BSE-free.

On a visit yesterday to the British Cattle Movement Service at Workington, Cumbria, Mr Rooker said he hoped the scheme would convince European Union politicians and vets that British beef was safe.

The system comes into effect on 28 September and will include a register of cattle, compulsory cattle tagging and a history of the animal until its death. Any creature that has been in contact with BSE, tuberculosis or other diseases will be identified.

Northern Ireland has had a computerised cattle tracking scheme for about 10 years and the service was a major reason for the lifting of its own export ban.

"We hope for an early lifting of the ban - there is no excuse for it not to be lifted now," Mr Rooker said.

"Certainly we hope that before the end of the year we might get a vote in our favour. It is important that we get this cattle movement service in place."

The new system will affect only cattle born after 28 September, but with 3 million calves born every year, it would soon be a major element of food safety in the UK, he said.

The Government is negotiating with Brussels on a date-based scheme for cattle born after August 1996 and Mr Rooker said he was hopeful that progress would mean a total lifting of the ban.

Tim Yeo, the Conservative spokesman on agriculture, said the new system was very welcome, but the Government was failing to give enough priority to lifting the ban.

"Why, at a crucial time for the industry, is the Secretary of State, Nick Brown, on holiday? A lot of farmers would love to go on holiday at this time of year, yet the man charged with fighting their case in Europe is not around.

"If I had just been appointed to his post, I would be making it my job to have bi-lateral meetings with all my European counterparts as soon as possible."

A spokeswoman for the National Farmers' Union welcomed the creation of the tracking system. "This is yet another example of how Britain sets the highest standards and produces beef that is among the best in the world," she said.