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Where’s The Beef? 2006-03-09

Posted by clype in Europe, Health, Intolerance, Money, Scotland, Statistics.
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A ten-year beef export ban that cost Scotland’s farmers and meat trade an estimated 1 300 million GBP has been lifted. The decision by European Union veterinary experts should see prime Scotch beef back on continental menus next month, 2006-04. The ban was imposed in 1996-03 after recognition of a link between the cattle brain disease ‘bovine spongiform encephalopathy’ (‘BSE’) and a new variant of the fatal human condition ‘Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease’ (‘vCJD’).

Key to lifting the ban has been the reduction of ‘BSE’ cases in the UK from a peak of 37 270 in 1992 to 161 last year 2005, and the introduction of ever more stringent health and hygiene rules in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants.

Efforts to wipe out ‘BSE’ since the late 1980s have included the slaughter and incineration of more than four million cattle over 30 months old ruled unsafe for human consumption, at a compensation cost to ‘The Treasury’ of more than 3 000 million GBP.

In the same period, in spite of early dire warnings that ‘vCJD’ could kill millions who might have eaten infected beef, there have been only 154 confirmed cases. ‘BSE’ has also been found in a number of countries in the past decade, which has softened the attitude of some member states towards the UK, with France and Italy taking the most convincing before yesterday’s unanimous EU vote. The European commissioner for health and consumer protection Mr.Markos Kyprianou, said after the crucial meeting:

‘The commission has taken no chances when it comes to dealing with “BSE” and the most stringent monitoring and control measures have been applied.

‘Precautionary measures, including the embargo on UK beef exports, were taken when deemed necessary to protect consumers fully.

‘However, the UK has made great strides in tackling this disease and has met all of the criteria that were set for the lifting of the beef export ban, in line with scientific and veterinary advice.

‘We must now acknowledge this and resume normal trade.’

The export ban was eased, theoretically, in 1999-08, to allow de-boned beef and beef products to be exported. But rules were so strict and financially unattractive that only a few tonnes have been exported.

If, as expected, the European Commission approves yesterday’s vote, UK farmers will be allowed to resume exports of beef under easier conditions from any cattle born after 1996-08-01 within the next six weeks.

Animals born after that date can also be exported live, which could lead to protests from animal rights campaigners. In 1995, about 400 000 live calves were exported. Mr.Donald Biggar, the interim chairman of ‘Quality Meat Scotland’, which promotes Scotland’s 1 5000 million GBP/year red meat industry, said:

‘This signals a new dawn for our industry, which has had to operate with a ban on a fifth of its market for a decade.’

Rebuilding trade will not be easy. But market research had shown there was still a demand for Scotch beef abroad, ten years after a trade worth 600 million GBP annually to the UK, 130 million GBP of that to Scotland, was wiped out overnight. The rural development minister Mr.Ross Finnie, greeted the news as a

‘victory for our efforts to convince our EU partners that the ban must go’. ‘We are now working to rebuild the export markets lost in 1996.’

The president of ‘NFU Scotland’ Mr.John Kinnaird, said:

‘This is a huge boost for farmers, the rural economy and European consumers.’

Television chef Mr.Nick Nairn, who heard the news while he was at a tourism event at Balmoral, said:

‘It is fantastic. I hope the trucks will be revving up and heading for Italy.’

‘This news is a large shot in the arm, but our beef has been absent from the marketplace for some time now and there will be a lot of work to be done to promote Scottish beef.

‘It is great step forward but there will absolutely need to be funding for this.

‘They are going to have to go out there, take beef out there and get people to eat it again.’

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