May resumption looks likely

UK looking to recapture £500 million in lost sales after ban


Exports of UK beef and live cattle could be resumed as early as May and the UK will aim to recapture the £500 million sales lost after the ban was imposed in 1996 following the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE)

There is expected to be a little resistance from Germany to the lifting of the ban and to a lesser extent from France and Spain. France's equivalent of the Food Standards Agency (Agence Francaise de Securite des Aliments) has said it is happy in principle with the measures taken by the UK to eliminate BSE.

The AFFSA said it had no problem with the export of live cattle. It has also said it is happy to accept beef from cattle born after August 1996 and slaughtered after the date of the removal of the ban. However, it will not accept cattle slaughtered before that date.

EU veterinary experts were meeting as the Journal went to press to vote on whether the European ban on British beef should be lifted. If the UK gets a qualified majority voting for the lifting of the ban then the UK will be allowed to trade in the same way as other member states with all restrictions removed for the export of live cattle and bone-in beef, said Helene Judge, Meat & Livestock Commission (MLC) EU advisor.

The proposal for the lifting of the ban will then pass to the European Parliament which has 30 days right of scrutiny. In theory it could block it but this is highly unlikely as the European Parliament has been well briefed, said Ms Judge. According to sources in the beef industry, May seems to be a realistic date for the resumption of live cattle and beef exports as one or two member states like France will need to change their national legalisation to allow British beef in.

The UK beef industry is keen to rebuild beef exports and it has been maintaining contacts with representatives in member states. "Beef supplies in Europe are tight and we know the trade in European states is interested in our product if the price is right, said Guy Attenborough, head of communications at the MLC. "We believe initial orders will go into wholesalers and foodservice."

UK beef and live cattle exports to the EU prior to 1997 were worth £522 million. Around 470,000 live cattle worth £61 million and 270,000 tonnes carcase weight cuts were exported to member states with France the main market taking 80,000 tonnes. Several schemes have been put in place in the past to export beef but trade has been limited because restrictions have been so tight making it commercially unviable, said Ms Judge.

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