Santer rebuke brings plan to cull 40,000 cows

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The Independent Online
Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, last night announced proposals to slaughter up to 40,000 cattle in order to try to speed elimination of "mad-cow disease" (BSE) from British herds.

It follows pressure from the European Union for Britain to come up with more detailed proposals for the targeted slaughter of parts of the herd as soon as possible. The proposed measures could cut BSE in Britain by 15 per cent to 30 per cent, but would only be introduced as part of a process towards the lifting of the beef export ban, said a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry.

The move came after John Major was given a humiliating rebuke yesterday by Jacques Santer, president of the European Commission. The Prime Minister admitted to farmers that the beef debacle was the "biggest crisis" he had ever faced.

In a message to Mr Major, Mr Santer said Britain's earlier delays in presenting plans to wipe out BSE had seriously damaged prospects for an early lifting of the EU ban.

The proposals submitted yesterday are aimed at getting the ban lifted on Monday. They would involve tracing all BSE cases to their herd of origin.

All the cattle in the herds at the same time as the BSE- affected beasts would then be traced and slaughtered or subjected to movement restrictions. Mr Hogg called the suggestions a "sensible and constructive move which I believe should be seen as a positive step forward".

It may make up for yesterday's gaffe, when EU officials were "amazed" that Mr Hogg arrived for talks with Franz Fischler, the Agriculture Commissioner, with no new plans for ending the crisis.

In his plea for action to Mr Major, Mr Santer said the cost of compensating British farmers could not be included in the EU's draft budget for 1997, due to be tabled next week, without British figures on numbers of animals to be slaughtered.

The culling offer will be discussed at an EU agriculture meeting to be held on Monday, when it is hoped that moves to end the ban on British beef exports may be negotiated. The proposals were sent to Mr Fischler yesterday afternoon. If they are accepted, the Government hopes that the proposals will help to restore public confidence in the safety of British beef without the need for funeral pyres of millions of cows.

Trevor Hayes, a spokesman for the National Farmers' Union, said: "We will be studying the (culling) proposals carefully. "We have always taken the view that we do not think further steps beyond those already agreed are necessary.

"Obviously the ministry feels that Brussels wants more and has gone for a selective cull. We have always said that if there was to be a targeted cull, we would need to be convinced that it would eradicate BSE to a much higher level."

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