Ulster to resume exporting beef

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NORTHERN Ireland is set to resume beef exports next Monday - more than two years after the mad cow scare closed the door on its markets around the world.

The formal announcement is expected in Brussels todaywhen the European Commission approves the Province's computerised cattle monitoring system as a comprehensive safeguard against BSE.

A lifting of the ban in Ulster was agreed earlier this year by European Union farm ministers, but was put on hold until the Commission completed final checks on Northern Ireland's anti-BSE measures.

Now the battle is on among Ulster farmers to win back their lost export market worth about pounds 180m-a-year - 80 per cent of its beef is exported.

Early customers are likely to be the Dutch, and confidence is rising that the stigma of BSE has already been overcome in traditionally lucrative markets such as France, Italy and Spain. Months before the BSE crisis destroyed Ulster exports of beef, the Province had been celebrating a rise in exports, particularly to Scandinavia.

More than 20,000 jobs depend on beef production in Northern Ireland - 8 per cent of the workforce - and the Government has spent pounds 1.5bn in aid to farmers and slaughterhouses.