EU demands could add 67,000 to cull

Beef crisis: Deal on lifting ban could bring higher death toll

Britain could be forced to cull an extra 67,000 cows to meet European demands for the eradication of BSE in the British herd, Douglas Hogg, the embattled Minister of Agriculture, told MPs yesterday.

Downing Street sources last night signalled that Britain may be prepared to go along with the demands in order to secure a deal on the framework plan for lifting the ban on British beef exports before the EU summit on Friday in Florence.

But Mr Hogg was warned by Tory members of the Agriculture Select Committee that he would face stiff resistance from MPs and farmers if he went ahead with the extended cull.

Britain has offered to cull up to 80,000 cattle to give assurances to its European partners, but Mr Hogg told the cross-party select committee that an additional cull of cattle born in 1989-90 was being demanded by EU ministers. That would mean raising the cull by an additional 67,000 cattle.

Reports yesterday suggested that the Government was prepared to consider European demands to slaughter another 20,000 cattle most at risk of developing BSE, provided a framework for lifting the beef ban is agreed. But Mr Hogg said: "I am very much aware that there would be considerable anxiety about a proposal for a compulsory cull in respect of the year 1989-90.

"I should say that the press reports to the effect that we have put that year on the table, which appeared today, are quite untrue. Though I'm bound to say I don't recognise the figure 20,000, if the cattle in the year 1989-90 were to be the subject of a compulsory cull - and that is not our proposal - the numbers are around 67,000."

Mr Hogg said there would be difficulty in extending the selective cull to the year 1989-90 because farmers had not been required to keep records then.

He was warned by Richard Alexander, Tory MP for Newark, that culling an extra 20,000 cattle was "at the borders of acceptability". Edward Leigh, a Euro-sceptic Tory MP, said the cull of 30-month-old cattle contributed "not one jot" to the protection of human health.

Farmers said last night they would not accept an extension of the proposal for a selective cattle cull which would mean an extra 67,000 dairy cows being slaughtered. They say they would rather see the export ban remain in force than take part in what they see as an unnecessary scheme with no scientific justification.

"We can see a scenario where we will refuse a selective cull and the export ban will continue," said Ian Gardiner, policy director of the National Farmers' Union. " It would concern us because exports are so important. But we are not going to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of dairy farmers just in order to resume beef exports."

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