I am gravely concerned by the unofficial boycott of British cattle imports by Belgium and the Netherlands as a result of the imports testing positive for bovine TB. These two countries account for more that 40% of all British cattle exports and this move is extremely disturbing. In light of the unofficial boycott by Belgium and the Netherlands, I will be writing to the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barrosso, demanding that a full investigation is carried out into the legitimacy of the ban imposed by the two Member States and for the relevant action to be taken.
There are also talks in the EU Parliament of a move towards an EU-wide ban on exports of British cattle by the end of next week which is deeply worrying. The National Farmers’ Union is working with British officials in Brussels for any bans to remain voluntary. I am extremely concerned that if an official ban is imposed, it could take months for it to be lifted, and will have a terrible impact on the beef and dairy sector.
I am in full agreement with Kim Haywood, the director of the National Beef Association, who has described a Europe-wide ban as a potential “catastrophe” for the British cattle farming industry and agree with her assertion that the unofficial ban and the prospect of an official import ban is a direct result of the Government’s inability, or general unwillingness, to control bovine TB.
It is clear to me that the prospect of a ban on the import of British cattle to Europe is yet more evidence that the Government’s strategy for tackling bovine TB is not working. The Government desperately needs to stop dithering and move quickly against the disease by implementing all of the recommendations made by the 2008 report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee. Its failure to implement these recommendations, and in particular a failure to authorise limited culls of bTB infected badgers in the areas most badly affected by bovine TB’s rampage, means that the government is abjectly failing to serve both British beef, and dairy farmers.
The Government has repeatedly ignored my calls and those of other colleagues to take urgent action to properly tackle the disease, not only for the sake of the beef and dairy sectors, but also for wildlife, where the reservoir of infection is leading to misery for the animals concerned.
I regard any ban on the export of British cattle to the EU as a disaster on the horizon for British beef and dairy farmers, and will be doing all I can to both pressure the government to adopt a serious bTB strategy, and ensure that an EU ban on the import of British cattle is not implemented.