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10 November 2004

STEVENSON BACKS CALL FOR ACTION ON BEEF BAN

ACT ON FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY ADVICE BY LIFTING THE OVER 30 MONTHS SCHEME

Scotland's Farming and Public Health Ministers Ross Finnie and Andy Kerr are being urged to act on the advice of the Food Standards Agency and lift the ban on beef exports. The call by Highland MSP Fergus Ewing is being backed by Banff & Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson, who was accompanied by Mr Ewing at a meeting with Ross Finnie last week.

Commenting, Fergus Ewing said:

"The Food Standards Agency is independent of Government. It was set up to be the public watchdog on food and the guardian risks to public health. It has told Ministers 4 months ago that the Over Thirty Months (OTM) rule can be replaced in two stages with BSE testing of cattle older then 30 months. Yet the Government have failed to act on this advice, apparently because the English Chief Medical Officer disagrees with the FSA.

"The problem is not in Brussels but in London: there is no barrier in the EU. Brussels recognise that the UK are at the same risk status as rest of the continent, but the UK is the only state in Europe with domestic and export restrictions on beef. Many farmers think that it is disgraceful that the UK Government is prepared to spend £400 million on a scheme which is unnecessary.

“My constituent Mr Ruaridh Ormiston, of Ormiston Highlands, breeders of Highland Cattle has told me that even now with the ban in place there were foreign buyers from Denmark and Germany who attended the Highland cattle sales last month, and some of whom apparently bought up stock with the ban still in place, leaving the beasts in the care of Scottish breeders.

“He has pointed out that the OTM scheme costs a ridiculous £1,200 per animal to the government as well as a substantial loss to the farmer over the beef price and subsequent replacement costs.

“Surely we should let London run our policy when the independent watchdog, the FSA says that it is not necessary to continue with the ban? And of course, even when it is lifted, it will take a long time to re-establish trade links which were lost - and so the sooner the ban is lifted the sooner that hard work can begin.

“I am challenging Mr Finnie to make it clear to Westminster that we all prefer there should be a lifting of the ban for all the UK - but if they refused, we should use the powers of devolution to the benefit of our own farming community. If he does so, and speaks up for Scotland, he will surely maximise the pressure for common sense to prevail in England as well.”

Stewart Stevenson added:

“The OTM scheme is one of the issues that is frequently mentioned to me by farmers and was raised with me again at the recent ‘Farmers’ Forum’ in Turriff which I organised.

“It is quite clear that the current situation is unsustainable and the Government, be it in Westminster or Edinburgh, must make progress on this issue very soon.”

Stewart Stevenson
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