Brussels, 08 March 2006
The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health today adopted unanimously a favourable opinion on a European Commission proposal to lift the embargo on UK exports of live cattle, beef and beef products.. The proposal is now expected to be adopted by the Commission in about 6 weeks time, as the European Parliament has a one month right of scrutiny. The ban on the export of UK beef was issued in March 1996 (with certain derogations introduced in 1999), due to the high incidence of BSE cases in the UK at the time. The proposal was made on the basis that the UK has fulfilled the conditions laid down by the Commission in its TSE Road Map (adopted in July 2005) in order for the ban to be lifted. These were to have an incidence of BSE below a certain level and to demonstrate that the BSE controls laid down in EU legislation were being fully and properly applied. Once the proposal is adopted and published in the Official Journal, the UK will be able to export live cattle born after 1 August 1996, and bovine meat and products produced after 15 June 2005, under the same terms as other Member States.
Markos Kyprianou, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, said “The Commission has taken no chances when it has come to dealing with BSE, and the most stringent monitoring and control measures have been applied. Precautionary measures, including the embargo on UK beef exports, were taken when deemed necessary to fully protect consumers. However, the UK has made great strides in tackling this disease, and has met all of the criteria that were set for the lifting of the beef export ban, in line with scientific and veterinary advice. We must now acknowledge this and resume normal trade in this area.”
UK beef ban
The export ban on UK cattle, their meat and products, has been in place since March 1996 (Commission Decision 96/239/EC). In 1999, the ban was amended to allow de-boned beef and beef products from the UK produced under the Date-based Export Scheme (DBES) to be exported. Under the DBES, the UK could export beef and products from cattle born after 1 August 1996, subject to a series of strict and limited conditions. These included requirements that the animal was between 6 and 30 months old, had been clearly traced and identified throughout its lifetime, its mother did not develop BSE, and that beef from cattle older than 9 months was de-boned. In practice, the DBES did not result in the export any significant amount of UK beef.
Moving towards lifting the ban
The possible lifting of the UK embargo was foreseen in the European Commission’s TSE Roadmap published in July 2005 and discussed with the European Parliament and Council (see IP/05/952). The Commission laid out very clear conditions which had to be met before the restrictions on UK beef exports could be lifted.
Firstly, the UK would have to have a BSE incidence below 200 cases per million animals, and secondly, the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) would have to deliver a favourable report on the enforcement of BSE controls in the UK and its compliance with EU legislation in this field.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued an Opinion in May 2004, confirming that BSE incidence in the UK was below 200 cases per million, and therefore not anymore considered a high BSE risk country. In June 2005, an inspection carried out by the EU Food and Veterinary Office confirmed that BSE controls were being properly enforced in the UK, and that its compliance with EU legislation, particularly in relation to identification and registration of bovine animals and testing, was satisfactory.
Under today’s agreement to lift the embargo, the UK will be allowed to resume exports of all live animals born after 1 August 1996. This is the date when the EU meat-and-bonemeal feed ban entered into effect and, under EU legislation, no cattle born before this date are allowed enter the food chain under any circumstances. UK meat and meat products produced after 15 June 2005 (linked to the date of the favourable FVO inspection) will also be allowed to be traded freely. The UK will have to adjust its legislation for beef-on-the-bone, and reduce its current age limit of 30 months for the removal of the vertebral column to 24 months. This will bring it in line with the 24 month rule applied by all other Member States (see IP/05/1223), and set the UK on equal footing in terms of trade.
The decision to lift the UK embargo will now be sent to the European Parliament, which has a right of scrutiny during one month. The legal texts related to lifting the embargo will then be formally adopted by the Commission and published in the Official Journal, after which they will immediately enter into force (which normally takes an additional two weeks).