Agriculture ministers to adopt more BSE controls

 

The extraordinary meeting of the EU council of agriculture ministers is expected to adopt a series of additional controls on BSE later today in Brussels against a background of chaos in the EU beef markets.

The most controversial of these is likely to be a "purchase for destruction" scheme to remove from the food chain all cattle aged over 30 months unless they have been tested for BSE to ensure additional guarantees for consumers and to stabilise the beef market.

The main Irish farm organisation, the Irish Farmers' Association, is known to be opposed to this scheme, believing it could damage the image of Irish beef where the tightest controls in the world have been in place for the past four years.

The IFA President, Mr Tom Parlon, who will be in Brussels today, has accused the French and German authorities of not doing enough in the past to deal with the BSE threat. "We are four years ahead of them and they are now running around like headless chickens and this has caused a lack of consumer confidence in the beef markets," he said.

Controversial, too, will be the Commission proposal to place a temporary six-month ban on the feeding of meat and bone-meal to all farm animals, including pigs and poultry. There has been a ban on feeding meat-and-bone meal to bovines since 1989 but it is allowed in pig and poultry feed.

The EU's Standing Veterinary Committee failed to reach a majority decision on this recommendation last Thursday. The Irish delegation abstained in the vote on whether the ban should be put in place.

It was still not clear last night if the Minister for Agriculture, Mr Walsh, will support the proposal which was drawn up by EU Commissioners, Mr David Byrne, and Mr Franz Fischler in an effort to restore consumer confidence in mainland Europe.

Ireland produces 140,000 tonnes of meat-and-bone meal annually and exports most of it to the continent and to third countries.

Storage of the product would create major difficulties for the industry here.

Other items for decision today will be an additional requirement that so-called specified risk materials removed from the food chain include the entire intestines of cattle of all ages.

Mr Walsh has said he will be pushing the Commission to introduce immediately a flexible beef intervention scheme to take surplus beef off the market until stability returns and for advance payments of premiums to be made to farmers to take financial pressure off them.