Rise in slaughter fails to bring end to embargo

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The Independent Online
The European Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, poured cold water yesterday on hopes for any immediate easing of the ban on British beef.

The additional cull, he said, was one of the pre-conditions in the Florence agreement last June which Britain signed up to. That framework committed the Government to implementing a sweeping BSE eradication programme in return for a phased lifting of the embargo. "I think we need to move forward step by step as agreed," Mr Fischler said.

The commission was still waiting for Britain to submit its proposals for securing the removal of the ban on beef from herds certified BSE-free. This is the first phase of a return to normal trade envisaged under the Florence deal.

The Agriculture Minister, Douglas Hogg, will tell European counterparts in Brussels today that Britain has now met the five Florence pre-conditions: it has set up a computerised cattle tracing system and brought in cattle "passports", while the possession of contaminated cattle feed has been criminalised and more than a million cattle over the age of 30 months have been slaughtered.

However, Britain's blueprint for meeting the EU conditions on BSE-free herds will not go to Brussels until the new year. It will then have to be evaluated by two expert veterinary committees before the commission can decide whether or not to allow exports of meat from these special grass-fed herds, a bureaucratic procedure which could take several weeks at least. Member states are in any case expected to react cautiously with the Germans likely to argue that BSE must be fully eradicated in Britain before any lifting of the trade ban.