Egypt lifts ban and Minister agrees deal with renderers


NINETY cattle were seized north of Dundalk yesterday in a joint operation mounted by gardai and Department of Agriculture officials as part of the continuing operation to keep cattle from the North out of the Republic.

News of the seizure came as it was confirmed Egypt had lifted its ban on Irish and European livestock and beef, except that of the UK, and that agreement had been reached with the renderers to process offal from Irish meat plants.

Department sources said the cattle were seized in a planned operation between Newry and Dundalk. The animals have been taken for veterinary examination to determine where they come from and if they have been treated with illegal substances.

A Department spokesman said the seizure was not related to the discovery of a quantity of clenbuterol ("angel dust") and other illegal animal drugs in Co Monaghan 12 hours earlier.

The Department also confirmed that 69 cattle, seized nearly a fortnight ago along the Border in a series of operations immediately after the BSE crisis started in Britain, have been destroyed. A further 10 animals are still in compounds in Cavan.

The news of the seizures came a stability seemed to be returning to the Irish beef market after agreement of a deal with renderers, who had closed offal processing plants on Tuesday and threatened to disrupt the entire meat processing industry.

Under the terms of the deal the nine rendering plants in the Republic are to receive a £2.5 million package to support them over the next six weeks while a commercial solution is being found.

They are to be paid £1.50p per week's storage fee per ton for the 10,000 tons of meat and bonemeal already processed for which they cannot find an outlet because of the ban on feeding it to pigs and poultry here.

In addition, they will receive a £150 a ton processing subsidy up to May 21st to a maximum of 15,000 tons, subject to Dail approval.

Mr Yates said during that period the Department will act as a facilitator to find agreement with the parties involved for a system of commercial arrangements for collection, treatment and disposal of livestock offal.

The Minister will also encourage the pig and poultry producers to lift their ban on feeding meat and bonemeal to stock here on the basis that such a ban does not exist anywhere in the rest of the EU except Britain.

The other piece of positive news involved the reopening of the Egyptian market to Irish and European livestock and beef products. UK products, however, will remain excluded.

The reopening of the market, estimated to be worth £205 million last year, will mean that 1,608 Irish cattle which have been aboard The Galloway Express for almost three weeks will be allowed into Alexandria port tomorrow.

The Egyptian breakthrough was warmly welcomed by the Taoiseach, Mr Bruton, in a statement last night. He had talked with President Mubarak on Tuesday night to ask him to remove the EU ban.

The Taoiseach and Mr Yates expressed the hope that the Egyptian decision will have a beneficial effect on other markets for Irish cattle and beef in the region.

The farm organisations, processors and live exporters have welcomed the first breakthrough in the North African markets. All of them are now seeking an increase in EU export refunds so that market can be serviced successfully against Australian competition.

There were other signs, too, of a decline in consumer fears yesterday when An Bord Bia said demand for its information line on beef had declined to the point where two staff are now able to deal with the telephone queries.