Exports resume, but volumes will be low

Exports of meat to the European Union (EU) can begin today from large parts of the UK following the foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) outbreak.

Volumes are likely to be small, as retrictive conditions have been attached to the European Commission's (EC) decision with meat leaders calling it "limiting" and "constraining".

Defra has also been attacked for adding to the list of conditions imposed by the EC's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH). In its guidance to exporters sent out on Wednesday it required farmers to identify all animals individually before slaughter, a requirement Stuart Roberts, director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) described as "gold plating". However, Roberts successfully lobbied Lord Jeff Rooker yesterday and that requirement has now been removed.

Roberts said: "The change is helpful however, we still have the SCoFCAH conditions so export levels will still be relatively low. But we shouldn't have had to have changed between Wednesday and Thursday what was effectively some gold plating and there should have been some more consulation with industry before the guidance was issued."

Alastair Donaldson, executive manager of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, said SCoFCAH's decision was "a very important first step" but decribed the conditions, which include keeping animals on the same holding for 30 days prior to slaughter, as "constraining".

He said export volumes would be limited because multiple farm pick-ups are still banned: "I doubt if there will be much beef because of the stringent requirements and difficulties with small lots, whereas if we can access bigger sheep units and get reasonably-sized lorry loads into the abattoir, there should be the ability to exports a few loads.

"Customers are screaming for the product. In France the demand is enormous," he said.