European Agriculture Ministers meeting today agreed to allow the resumption of exports of deboned beef from animals born after 1 August 1996 under the Date Based Export Scheme. The world-wide ban on British beef came into force over two and a half years ago, on 27 March 1996.
Speaking in Brussels, Agriculture Minister Nick Brown said:
"This is excellent news and I am delighted. The Council's decision validates the safety of British beef. Tremendous efforts - led personally by the Prime Minister - have been made over the last 18 months to achieve this outcome. My officials and their colleagues from other departments have made an invaluable contribution. Through hard work, dedication and patient explanation, the UK has proved its case on the science and followed the procedures set down in the Florence Agreement to their logical conclusion. As a result, British beef can begin to resume its place on world markets." Ten of the 15 EU Agriculture Ministers voted in favour of the Commission's proposal.
The Commission are shortly expected to adopt the proposal formally. Under the procedures agreed in Florence in 1996 there will need to be a Commission inspection before exports can commence. The inspection will, for example, need to establish that progress has been made to slaughter the offspring born after 1 August 1996 to BSE cases.
Exports will be subject to stringent conditions and controls. The Agriculture Departments will shortly issue consultation proposals on the operation of the scheme.
The export ban was imposed in Decision 96/239/EC on 27 March 1996. The conclusions of the European Council held in Florence on 22 June 1996 set out the pre-conditions for the gradual removal of the ban. The ban was lifted in relation to Northern Ireland only by Decision 98/256/EC on 15 March 1998. The Commission's proposal for the further relaxation of the ban was published on 10 June 1998, following a proposal made by the UK. In accordance with the procedures set out in the Florence Agreement, the UK proposal was scrutinised by the EC Scientific Steering Committee in December 1997 and January 1998, and the UK responded to its comments.
A Commission inspection team visited the UK in July 1998 to examine the preparations being made to implement the export scheme and the associated cull of offspring of BSE cases. They reported to the Standing Veterinary Committee in September: the report was broadly favourable.
The proposal did not attract support from a qualified majority in the Council. Under the procedures set out in the Directive under which the proposal is made, if the proposal neither adopted by qualified majority nor rejected by simple majority, the Commission must adopt it. Under the terms of the proposal, deboned beef and beef products may be exported subject to the following criteria:
The eligibility of animals will be subject to official checks before slaughter. Abattoirs slaughtering bovines for export may not slaughter bovines which are not eligible. Other premises handling meat destined for export may not handle at the same time beef which is not eligible for export.
Votes in the Agriculture Council were as follows: The UK, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Sweden, Portugal, Finland, the Netherlands and Greece voted in favour of lifting the ban; Luxembourg, Spain, Austria and France abstained; Germany voted against.