The unanimous European vote in favour of lifting the embargo on UK exports of live cattle, beef, and beef products last week, was greeted with great delight by the UK meat industry.
The proposal is now expected to be adopted by the Commission in around six weeks time, as the European Parliament has one month right of scrutiny. The ban on the export of UK beef was issued in March 1996 due to the high incidence of BSE cases in the UK at the time. But since the incidence of BSE in the UK has fallen sharply from a peak of 37,280 cases in 1992 (high risk) to 161 in October 2005 (moderate risk) easily meeting the EU requirement of less than 200 cases per million adult animals per year Europe has been more than happy to propose the beef ban be lifted.
The other key factor was the EU approval of Britian's veterinary controls to prevent infected tissue entering the food chain. Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said that the Commission has taken no chances when it has come 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 fully protect consumers. However, the UK has made met all the criteria that were set for the lifting of the beef export ban, in line with scientific and veterinary advice. We must acknowledge this and resume normal trade in this area," he said.
The unanimity with which the vets voted to lift the ban is expected to ease the removal of obstacles to a market worth £675 million a year when the ban was imposed in 1996. The lifting of the beef ban means that the UK will be allowed to resume exports of all animals born after 1 August 1996. This is the date when the EU meat and bonemeal feed ban entered into effect and, under EU legislation no cattle born before this date area is allowed to enter the food chain under any circumstances.
UK meat and meat produced later than 15 June 2005 will also be allowed to trade freely. The UK will have to adjust its legislation for beef-on-the bone, and reduce its current age limit of 30 months for the removal of vertebral column to 24 months. This will bring it in line with the 24 month rule applied by other members states.