EMERGENCY measures to cut European Union beef production are being drawn up by Brussels amid growing concern that the market is failing to recover after the BSE crisis.
Franz Fischler, the EU agriculture commissioner, said yesterday that action was urgently needed if a continuing fall in beef prices throughout Europe was to be reversed. "The chaos unleashed upon the beef sector of the European Union by the BSE crisis has been so precipitous, and of such magnitude, that it is unparalleled in the history of the common agricultural policy," said Mr Fischler.
Among measures being considered by Brussels are the imposition of maximum weight limits for cattle that can be bought into intervention and less generous EU grants for farmers rearing beef cattle. Such measures, which are likely to be tabled by Mr Fischler at a meeting of farm ministers on July 22, would be another blow to British beef farmers in the short term.
Mr Fischler said yesterday: "The economic viability of the beef sector in the future can only be guaranteed through a rebalancing of the market. The livelihoods of millions of beef producers, and the economic stability of the whole beef industry of the European Union, is under serious threat if urgent and radical action is not taken."
Continuing falls in beef prices have forced the European Commission to buy up 180,000 tonnes of beef since the beginning of the "mad cow" crisis. By the end of the year stocks bought into intervention could be more than 600,000, leaving the EU with another large beef mountain to clear. In the past, it had been possible for the community to sell its intervention beef at low prices on the world market, but recent changes in world trade agreements have rendered this impossible.
"Given this scenario, there is a very real danger of an unprecedented level of beef intervention stock overhanging and depressing the market," said Mr Fischler. It was against this "bleak outlook" that measures "to reduce beef output as radidly as possible" were being drawn up, he added.
HELP may be on its way to the Meat and Livestock Commission, which had its wrists slapped by the Advertising Standards Authority last week. The ASA upheld complaints over one of the Commissions newspaper advertisements, which stated that beef was perfectly safe to eat and that there were even cases of vegetarians getting CJD, the human equivalent of "mad cow" disease.
Rumour has it that a complimentary copy of the Richards Butler "A Guide to UK Advertising and Sales Promotion Law" is currently winging its way to the commission's HQ in Milton Keynes. Helpfully, it contains a special chapter entitled "Misleading Advertisements".
"The news on the radio is interesting today. The Europeans are apparently convinced that we are exporting both cattle and tainted feed. A European parliament enquiry will start soon (next week I think) and they are sending over their own monitoring teams to our ports! It seems to be the case that our relations with Europe are deteriorating.
We are still producing feed and fertiliser from bovine material in the UK, so we could be exporting it. This is LEGAL and the stuff is used for feeding fish and for horticultural (commercial glasshouse and domestic) use."