Blair upbeat at beef summit

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair today pledged his Government was "101% behind" the British beef industry's bid to restore export markets after the BSE crisis.

Tony Blair today pledged his Government was "101% behind" the British beef industry's bid to restore export markets after the BSE crisis.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street summit meeting of industry leaders that getting the EU beef ban lifted was only the first step on the road to restoring a market once worth £600 million.

The long-planned beef summit came less than 24 hours after Agriculture Minister Nick Brown declared that the domestic ban on sales of beef-on-the-bone would be lifted on December 17.

Supermarket chain Safeway said it would start stocking the meat straightaway.

Mr Blair told today's breakfast gathering at No 10, called to dream up ways of reviving the industry's export market: "The Government is 101% behind the efforts to get the beef industry back on its feet as exporters, as well as in the domestic market.

"This is a time when we can realistically assess our problems but be optimistic for the future.

"The export market used to be a huge market but as a result of what's happened it's been reduced dramatically. We have got a chance now to get back on the front foot again and really make a case for British beef and get out there and sell it."

The Prime Minister stressed that British beef was now probably the safest in the world, thanks to the stringent checks brought in over the BSE crisis.

"We have got tremendous opportunities. We have introduced standards for British beef that make it as safe as any beef anywhere in the world," he said.

"We know lifting the ban in the EU is only the first part of it, because there are all those countries around the world, including the United States and Commonwealth countries, that still have bans on British beef. We have a great opportunity to go out and make our case," added Mr Blair.

In 1995, beef exports were worth £600 million to the UK, but they slumped to £12 million last year in the wake of BSE.

The National Farmers Union, Meat and Livestock Commission, Ministry of Agriculture, Foreign Office and representatives from the Scottish and Welsh devolved bodies were at today's summit.

Mr Brown said today that lifting the beef-on-the-bone ban would only be of "symbolic" help in getting the French and Germans to start selling British beef.

"The beef-on-the-bone issue is more symbolic than real in the context of the date-based export scheme because the scheme is for de-boned beef," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

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