The NFU has welcomed the decision of Europe's Agriculture Ministers to introduce tough measures to help address EU consumer concerns over beef.

NFU President Ben Gill was in Brussels for the meeting at which ministers agreed to the Europe-wide removal of over 30-month-old cattle from the food chain, unless they are tested and proved free of BSE.

Ministers also agreed last night to a temporary Europe-wide ban on the use of meat and bone meal in animal feed.

An original proposal to include fishmeal in the six-month ban was amended to allow its continued use in pig and poultry rations. The NFU supported the amendment. It may not be used in cattle or sheep feed as part of the temporary ban.

The UK already has in place a comprehensive feed ban and an Over Thirty Month Scheme that removes all over 30 month cattle from the human food chain.

NFU President Ben Gill said: "These EU-wide controls will be a valuable step forward in the process of re-building consumer confidence in beef on the Continent and in restoring beef sales world-wide.

"Of huge significance and importance is that the EU is at last working as one to tackle the issue."

Ben Gill said it was crucial to consumer confidence levels that member states ensured that no over 30 month animals entered the market before the EU scheme was introduced later this month.

He added: "Once these additional measures are in place, beef production in Europe will meet the same strict standards as in the UK.

"The evolving BSE situation in Europe once again highlights the fact that the illegal French ban on British beef is totally unjustified."

The NFU welcomed the call by Agriculture Ministers call for the next phase of EU beef labelling rules to be brought forward so that consumers are certain of the origin of their beef.

It also believes arable support payments should be enhanced to encourage farmers to grow more crops such as beans and peas to meet increased demand for alternative protein sources in the future.