The Export Certified Herds Scheme allows the export of de-boned beef from cattle aged 6-30 months from herds certified as free from BSE for eight years. Dr Cunningham said:
"I welcome the Commission's decision today to seek the Standing Veterinary Committee's endorsement of the Export Certified Herds Scheme for Northern Irish beef. This marks a significant step forward in regaining access to international markets for British beef. This is only the first step however. The proposal still requires the approval of the majority of other member states - either at the Standing Veterinary Committee, or if it fails to agree, at the Agriculture Council. The Commission would then need to re-inspect and approve the control arrangements in Northern Ireland before it sets a date for exports to resume.
"Marjorie Mowlam and I, together with other colleagues, will be doing all we can to persuade the member states, as we have persuaded the Commission, that because British beef is safe, there is no risk to public health in letting this scheme go ahead. British beef is subject to the most rigorous safeguards. The scheme will provide a valuable outlet for beef from Northern Ireland, relief for the beef market in the UK as a whole, and a big boost to hopes of securing further relaxation of the export ban for the year ahead. We shall make strenuous efforts to achieve that.
"Today's decision is the result of open, constructive dialogue with the Commission and the European Parliament. We are continuing that dialogue on our proposals for the Date Based Export Scheme, which would allow beef exports to resume for the whole of the UK."
The export of beef from animals from herds certified as having no association with BSE is one of five steps or schemes laid down in the Agreement reached at the Florence Council in June 1996 which would permit the gradual lifting of the export ban.
The Export Certified Herds Scheme permits the export of de-boned beef from cattle:
The cattle and meat will be traceable back to the herd of origin; animal slaughter and beef cutting and processing will take place in plants dedicated for that purpose; and all stages in the process will be subject to strict controls and veterinary supervision.
The 'Florence Agreement' also lays down the procedure for approving export schemes:
It is understood by MAFF that the Commission is also proposing to modify the export ban Decision by:
Another step laid down in the Florence Agreement is for the export of animals and their meat born after a specified date. The UK submitted proposals for a scheme to permit the export of beef from animals born after 1 August 1996, supported by a cull of offspring born to BSE cases after that date, on 2 October 1996. The Scientific Steering Committee approved the principles underlying the scheme in December 1997 - linking its acceptability with Commission approval of all of the relevant control systems. Officials are currently discussing the way forward with the Commission.