Cautious welcome as exports to resume

European leaders have voted to partially lift the export ban, which could take effect from the 12 October.

The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) voted yesterday to lift the ban, imposed following the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) crisis.

Reports suggest the counties of Dorset, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Rutland, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk and any to the south-east of them will still be restricted. However areas further north and west will be able to return to exporting, it is thought, subject to strict conditions.

Those conditions include that the meat must have come from an animal that was on the same holding for at least 30 days before slaughter, and no foot and mouth susceptible animals may have been introduced to the holding during the previous 21 days. The meat must also stay in the abattoir for at least 24 hours before dispatch.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) cautiously welcomed the news, but director Stuart Robert, said the restrictions imposed meant the lifting of the ban was only of limited value and described it as "tokenism.'.

"Despite the headline of this decision being a welcome injection of good news for an industry which has been hit badly by both FMD and bluetongue in recent weeks it is unlikely the change will result in substantial levels of exports occurring due to the conditions which need to be complied with," he said.

"The requirements for separation and, in particular, the fact that a keeper cannot bring an animal on to their farm for 21 days before any of their livestock becomes eligible to be slaughter for export is going to make this decision of limited use. In the sheep sector in particular this issue is compounded by the large number of livestock movements that need to happen in the next few weeks.

The volume of exports likely to take place is further diluted by the fact that many of the larger pig processors are inside the area from which exports cannot take place. It is very disappointing that these processors will not be able to export meat even if the pigs themselves are sourced from the area outside the zone."

Roberts added: "Over the next few days and weeks it is imperative that work continues so as to enable any future decision to deliver a set of conditions that will facilitate a greater volume of exports that are so vital to both farmers and the meat industry."

Alistair Donaldson, executive manager of the Scottish Meat Wholesalers, was more positive, He said: "This is tremendous news particularly for the sheep sector as it was facing a catastrophe. It is great knowing there is a real demand for our product."

Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) chairman Donald Biggar also welcomed the news. He said: "This is the news everyone in the red meat sector has been hoping to hear and it means consignments of lamb from Scotland should be on the way to Europe as early as the 16 of October with beef only a few days later.

"QMS and its agents in France, Italy and Benelux have been in constant touch with key Scottish industry customers throughout the past nine weeks to keep them abreast of developments. We will be back on the phone today to let them know the good news and to offer whatever support they need to help them place fresh orders for beef and lamb from Scotland.

"This movement is particularly important for our sheep sector as the export market takes around 30% of all lamb produced in Scotland at this time of year. Although the restrictions imposed in the wake of FMD mean that we have been barred from export trade during much of August and September we now have an opportunity to build sales in the run up to Christmas and beyond."

The European Commission statement said:

"A Commission proposal to amend the foot-and-mouth disease restrictions for certain parts of Great Britain from 12 October has been backed by Member State experts in the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The proposal will be finally adopted only if there are no further outbreaks outside a 200 km area around the surveillance zone in Surrey and under strict conditions.

"Under the draft Decision agreed today, the whole of Great Britain would remain a high-risk area with regard to the movement restrictions for susceptible animals and untreated products. The export of fresh beef and sheep meat would be allowed to resume from the parts of Great Britain which fall outside a 200km delineated area around the surveillance zone in South-East England, subject to strict animal health conditions.

"For 30 days prior to slaughter, the animals used to produce this meat would have to be kept on the same holding, and for 21 days prior to these animals being moved, no new susceptible livestock could be introduced to the holding.

"At the slaughterhouse, the animals would have to be killed immediately, and ante- and post-mortem inspections for possible signs of FMD would have to be carried out. The meat would then have to be quarantined for 24 hours and could only be dispatched if there was no suspicion of disease in the holding of origin.

"This provision allowing certain parts of Great Britain to export fresh meat will be automatically suspended if an FMD outbreak occurs anywhere beyond the 200km zone in the South-East.

"The Standing Committee also agreed today to prolong all FMD protection measures in place in the UK until 15th November 2007."