HC Deb 30 March 1994 vol 240 c772W
Mr. Willetts

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what representations she has made at the Agriculture Council of 28 and 29 March about British beef exports.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

At the Agriculture Council on 28 March I raised our concerns about the threats from Germany of unilateral action against British beef and confirmed that my colleagues in the Council are standing firm in support of the Commission's position, with which we agree, that trade measures must be based on scientific knowledge of bovine spongiform encephalopathy. This knowledge is already fully reflected in the current trade rules.

I presented Commissioner Steichen with a dossier showing the damage which has already been done to United Kingdom exports by the German position. I made it clear that we cannot tolerate this when there is no justification whatsoever for the safety of our beef exports to be called into question. I pointed out that if member states behaved in this way it created a dangerous precedent and undermined the very foundation of free trade; there was no knowing which product from which country might next be similarly affected. Whilst Governments had to respond to public concerns they should do so in a responsible and measured way which reflected the known facts of the situation.

As the House is aware the Government believe that BSE was caused by the use of contaminated feed, on which action was taken by the ruminant feed ban in 1988. The feed hypothesis, made six years ago on the basis of a thorough epidemiological study, has recently been supported by preliminary findings from collaborative research begun in 1991, and due to run until 1996, which we are conducting with the EC Commission and the European Renderers Association. These early results show that the BSE agent can survive some rendering processes. When a report on this research is available it will be deposited in the Library of the House and I shall consult the Spongiform Encephalopathy advisory committee as the work progresses.

My representations in the Council were fully supported by the Commission and 10 other member states, who shared our view that the position taken by Germany was not sustainable.