"Very shortly there will be a very serious beef shortage in the UK and consumers will start to see good quality beef evaporate and prices spiral," said Dr Richard North, technical adviser to the Quality Meat and Livestock Alliance.
The Alliance, a coalition of farmers, abattoir owners and butchers, was given leave to seek a ruling that the Government order that cattle over 30 months old must be slaughtered to eradicate BSE from herds is invalid and unlawful. If the coalition wins the case it will throw the Government's anti-BSE strategy into chaos and prevent it from carrying out the mass slaughter which is seen as crucial to having the EU export ban lifted.
Mr Justice Carnwath said: "It seems to me there certainly is an arguable point, although I express no view whether it will succeed." The full hearing is unlikely to take place before July despite the judge's direction that it should go ahead "as soon as possible".
Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, did not oppose the application but is expected to challenge it strongly later at the full hearing. Kenneth Parker QC, for Mr Hogg, said that "serious allegations" were being made that ministerial powers had been used for an improper purpose.
Under the scheme to slaughter and incinerate all British cattle over 30 months old some 800,000 cows and 500,000 prime beef cattle will be killed this year. According to the Alliance the scheme will cost the taxpayer pounds 550m a year.
Dr North said: "We are trying to save the British public pounds 550m this year and every year thereafter until they stop this insanity. That is the value of the cattle to be slaughtered under the 30-month rule . . . "
"We are trying to save farmers from having to destroy perfectly healthy animals and we are trying to stop abattoirs and cutting plants from going out of business," said Dr North.
He added: "Roughly we export pounds 500m worth of cattle each year. Now we are effectively incinerating our export trade. If the ban is lifted there will be nothing to export."
The Alliance's High Court action follows a legal challenge already launched by farmers and meat exporters against the EU ban. They will argue that the latter was imposed illegally in an attempt to allay consumer panic and not because of a scientifically-proven risk to human health.Reuse content