NFU President Ben Gill has called on the European Commission to turn its full attention to the job of restoring consumer confidence in beef in Europe.

In a forthright letter sent ahead of tomorrow’s beef meeting in Brussels* Mr Gill says proving to the public that EU safety measures are fully in place to prevent the feeding of meat and bone meal to cattle and to ensure risk material is being removed from meat in Europe must be its first priority.

The letter has gone to Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, the Commission’s spokesman for Health and Consumer Protection David Byrne and UK representatives at the Commission Neil Kinnock and Chris Patten, as well as President of the Commission Romano Prodi.

In it Mr Gill says: “The priority at this week’s Commission meeting and the forthcoming Council of Agriculture Ministers must be to re-establish consumer confidence while taking measures that reduce the immediate market over-supply.

“We look to the EC to supervise the efforts of member states closely, to publish monthly results and to demonstrate that it is dealing firmly with any breaches in its regulations.

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“If a member state fails to ensure compliance in its feed, farming or slaughtering sectors, exports of its beef should be banned and abattoirs closed until such time as satisfactory arrangements can be introduced.”

The letter goes on to recommend secondary market management measures to restore the balance between production and consumption of beef in the EU in the immediate future.

Given the UK experience, the NFU calls for the removal of animals over 30 months of age from the food chain in Europe, as in Britain, and the removal of the ceiling on intervention purchases for 2001 to clear the existing over-supply in the market.

Ben Gill said: “The NFU is acutely aware of the need to balance the EU budget but has strong concerns about the impact and the ability of some of the measures that are being proposed to offer a real remedy to the situation. Some will clearly be storing up problems for the future.

“The Commission is proposing to go down a blind alley by trying to introduce beef reforms which will be distorting and bureaucratic.

“The NFU is also deeply concerned that this country’s farmers will be faced with further hardship in spite of their sustained efforts and sacrifices to beat BSE in Britain.

“Britain’s beef industry must not be prevented further from re-building its market by ineffective and disabling measures after all the hard work that has been put in.”

Notes to editors

*The College of Commissioners meets on Tuesday 13 February to consider proposals to tackle the over-supply of beef in the market as a result of BSE in Europe. Any decision will have to be considered by the Council of Agriculture Ministers, which meets on 26 and 27 February.