EU stands firm on exports

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The Independent Online
EU agriculture ministers last night rejected Britain's demand for a timetable for the lifting of the ban on British beef exports and attacked the Government's new selective slaughter plans as inadequate.

Demanding more radical steps, ministers said the latest British plans to target 42 000 high-risk animals, although a step in the right direction, would produce an insufficient decline in BSE cases to reassure public opinion.

Veterinary experts, called in to provide an initial assessment yesterday said the 15 per cent to 30 per cent decline in cases forecast by Britain was not enough. They advised that a 50 per cent to 60 per cent target should be reached. They also expressed serious doubts about how identifying and tracing back suspect animals and herds - the foundation of Mr Hogg's plan - would be implemented in the absence of complete data on animal movements.

Mr Hogg was last night edging towards acceptance of a draft deal which inevitably means he must return to the drawing board, to come up with a more extensive and watertight plan entailing the slaughter of perhaps thousands more animals. In exchange, his EU colleagues were prepared to offer only the carefully worded assurance that this "forms part of a process which should allow the export ban to be progressively lifted on a step- by-step basis".

Diplomats said the statement reflected the concern among other member states that Mr Hogg should be given a face-saving formula to allow him to sell the need for more radical slaughter plans to British farmers and Euro-sceptics.