HC Deb 11 June 1997 vol 295 cc503-4W
Mr. Prior

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what actions he plans to take to support(a) beef prices and (b) the beef production industry. [2530]

Mr. Rooker

The current problems of the UK beef market are not simply the result of BSE, but reflect the fact that there is significant structural imbalance between supply and demand on the EU market. In discussion with Commissioner Fischler and representatives of other Member States on the Agriculture Council, the Government has repeatedly stressed that reform of the beef regime is urgently necessary to address that imbalance. In the meantime, we are urging the Commission to make progress towards lifting the export ban and to introduce controls on beef production in other Member States equivalent to those applied here. In the absence of agreement on such controls, we will not hesitate to take unilateral action to ensure that any beef imported onto the UK market and competing with the domestic product meets the same high standards as apply in the UK.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement as to the difference in treatment by the regulatory authorities of(a) imported beef and (b) beef produced in the United Kingdom. [2246]

Mr. Rooker

All fresh meat produced in or imported into the United Kingdom must be produced in accordance with harmonised hygiene rules laid down in Council Directive 64/433/EEC (as amended). Also, meat derived from bovines which, at the time of slaughter, were more than 30 months old is prohibited under the Fresh Meat (Beef Controls) (No 2) Regulations 1996 for sale for human consumption unless it comes from animals covered by the Beef Assurance Scheme, or born, reared and slaughtered in those third countries specifically excluded by the Regulations where there is no known risk of BSE.

In addition, since 1989 there has been a requirement for specified bovine material (SBM) to be removed from bovine animals which have died or been slaughtered in the United Kingdom. SBM is currently defined in the Specified Bovine Material Order 1997 as the whole head (excluding the tongue), spinal cord, spleen, thymus, tonsils and intestines of cattle over six months old and the thymus and intestines of calves under six months. The SBM may not be used in food, animal feed, cosmetic, pharmaceutical or medical products. It has to be stained and disposed of under strictly controlled conditions.

On 5 June, following advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced the opening of consultations on an amendment to the 1997 Order, Official Report, columns 227–28, which would extend these controls to imported beef, other than from those countries excluded by the Fresh Meat (Beef Controls) (No 2) Regulations 1996. This is not an import ban. We intend to implement these measures in late July if agreement to introduce similar Community-wide controls is not forthcoming by then.