14 – 20 February 2001

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Malta and Cyprus hailed … for importing British beef!

Malta and Cyprus have been hailed as shunning away from scoring political points. And why? Because they are two countries of all the applicant EU countries to have accepted to import British beef. This was reported in The Scotsman by Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, who was talking to a visiting group from 13 countries seeking EU accession that most of them were out of line on BSE.

He said that only Cyprus and Malta of the 13 had agreed to accept British beef and only those two, plus the Czech Republic, would accept bull semen from the UK. He said: "You have taken nationalistic and unscientific lines."

In a no-nonsense assessment of the European Union's BSE crisis, and in the aftermath of the British government's response on Friday to the Phillips inquiry into the disease in Britain, David Byrne said: "It disappoints me that every time the crisis takes a new turn the response is to look for some magic solution or some new measure which will impress the public.

"If the same effort was given to implementation of measures already in place I am convinced that the situation would now be far less serious."

He told members of COPA, the federation of European farmers' unions: "Unfortunately, again and again the commission has found that BSE is only taken seriously when the damage is already done. The reaction is far too often to call for new measures rather than acknowledge past failures.

"This has to stop. It is irresponsible and leaves the consumer confused. The best and only way out of the crisis is for all member states to accept that there is now a framework of measures which ensures that beef is safe."

Hopes that EU restrictions on Northern Ireland's beef exports will soon be lifted have suffered a blow after random tests carried out by the Department of Agriculture on 2,500 cattle over 30 months old and banned for human consumption, detected 54 cases of BSE.

The tests were carried out in advance of a European Union-wide screening programme and were designed to help the province's case for a lifting of the restriction on its beef exports to Europe.

However, the tests also revealed that animals under four years of age did not test positive for BSE, providing proof that measures to eradicate the disease introduced in 1996 were working.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
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