Calf slaughter
Ape colony needed for study on BSE effects
Rethink on BSE study
Renderer finds juicy contract
EU bans ostrich in fever scare
Tories succeed by one vote in debate on BSE
Computer gives Ulster BSE edge
Ministers scrape home in BSE vote
Hogg offers MPs little hope of an end to beef ban



Shanks finds safer ground

Nils Pratley
Daily Telegraph ... Friday 15 November 1996

The irony is sweet. Shanks & McEwan has been grumbling for years about how government dithering over high-temperature incineration had undermined demand at its Rechem business; now comes salvation with a government contract to burn rendered meat in the wake of the BSE crisis. The order should be worth up to £9m over three years and will ensure Rechem's plants work at full capacity. The need to scratch around for one-off business should almost disappear.

Within Shanks's 7.3pc rise in interim pre-tax profits to £11.6m, Rechem contributed just £600,000. But incineration is a high fixed-cost business, meaning that a high proportion-maybe up to half-of new turnover should be converted into profits.

Meanwhile, Shanks's waste services division is finally keeping to the script. A 12pc fall in volumes might not sound like good news but it is in the long-term.

Demand is falling for the simple reason that it is becoming harder to win planning permission for landfill holes. Shanks is the biggest owner of such sites and should be able to achieve price rises well above the rate of inflation.

In the half, price increases meant waste profits stood still at £12.6m, despite the drop in turnover. The second half will bring the first volumes of contaminated spoil from the Millennium site at Greenwich. One worry is the arrival of the landfill tax, whose effect is impossible to judge so far.

Brokers expect pre-tax profits this year of £21m, putting the shares, up 4.5 to 119.5p, on 16.5-times earnings.

After a couple of tough years, Shanks's shares look safe at last.


EU bans ostrich in fever scare

from Charles Bremner in Brussels and Inigo Gilmore in Johannesburg
The Times ... November 15 1996

The European Union has temporarily banned imports of ostrich meat and live birds from South Africa after an outbreak among abattoir workers of Congo Fever, which can be fatal.

The EU's standing veterinary committee ordered the move on Tuesday after South Africa notified Brussels that 16 workers at a slaughterhouse at Oudtshoorn in Western Cape province had contracted the fever, said Gerard Kiely, spokesman for Franz Fischler, the Agriculture Commissioner. One woman has died.

News of the disease has caused concern in Europe's fast-growing ostrich-farming industry, based mainly in The Netherlands and Britain. The ostrich meat market has grown rapidly this year as consumers sought an alternative to beef in the wake of the BSE crisis. Some Commission officials suggested the fears could shore up beef prices.

The strain of the disease at Oudtshoorn is Crimea Congo haemorrhagic fever. It causes body organs to degenerate with internal and some external bleeding. About 30 per cent of cases are fatal. The outbreak is believed to have been caused by ticks.

Victims from the abattoir had to be transported in sealed ambulances to isolated wards at a Cape Town hospital.

South Africa has undertaken to conduct urgent research to see if the disease ­ of which there have been a few cases in the country since 1981 ­ can be spread through the meat.




Tories succeed by one vote in debate on BSE

By George Jones, Joy Copley and Jon Hibbs
Daily Telegraph ... Thursday 14 November 1996

The Government scraped home by one vote last night after an acrimonious debate on the BSE crisis. An Opposition motion attacking the failure to get the beef export ban lifted was defeated by 303 to 302 votes.

It was the smallest majority since John Major survived a Commons division on the Scott Report by a single vote in February. At that time the Government's parliamentary majority was two. Now it is one, and is expected to disappear next month after a by-election in the Labour constituency of Barnsley East.

The narrowness of the victory is bound to raise questions over the Government's ability to hold out until the Tories' preferred date of May 1 for a general election. Ministers will also be worried that nine Ulster Unionist MPs on whom the Government will increasingly depend for support also backed the Labour motion criticising ministers for failing to secure the lifting of the EU ban on beef exports.

MPs backed a Government amendment defending the action taken and accusing Labour of "cynical political opportunism" over beef by 303 votes to 295. The Government majority increased on the second vote because some Labour MPs left early and did not vote. It was embarrassing for the Labour leadership and prompted criticism from Ulster Unionists.

The Tories claimed there were no rebels on their side even though there had been criticism from a number of Euro-sceptic MPs after Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, admitted there was little realistic prospect of lifting the ban in the near future. Conservative MPs rounded on Mr Hogg, but a threatened backbench rebellion did not materialise. Several demanded the restoration of the non-cooperation policy with Brussels if a satisfactory deal was not reached by John Major at the Dublin summit next month.

Mr Hogg's assessment fuelled the anger on the back benches inspired by the European Court judgment imposing a 48-hour working week. "We are not going to get from the member-states an absolute guaranteed timetable leading to when the ban will be lifted," Mr Hogg said.

He said the best to be hoped for was a partial lifting in respect of specialist herds and animals born since Aug 1.

The EU originally agreed to lift the ban by the end of this month if Britain complied with a series of measures to eradicate BSE. Most have been implemented but the Cabinet decided two months ago to abandon plans for a selective cull and agriculture ministers are hoping to reach a settlement in Brussels next week.

Earlier, ministers faced criticism from Tory MPs after rejecting cross-party demands for compensation for cattle de-boning firms put out of business by the crisis.

Farmers who lost money selling their cattle after the beef crisis broke in March will get special payments of £55 per animal from a £29 million package of state aid, the Government said yesterday.


Computer gives Ulster BSE edge

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor
Daily Telegraph ... Thursday 14 November 1996

A £2 million computerised tracing system for cattle is to be installed in Northern Ireland, where farmers are demanding to be the first to resume beef exports once the EU ban is lifted.

The new Government computer will replace an ageing system used to police anti-BSE measures. It is becoming overloaded and threatened by a "virus" that might bring down the system by the turn of the century.

The existing system, unique in the United Kingdom, has given Ulster farmers an edge over other producers who are struggling to regain export markets that were lost after the March 20 Government announcement that BSE might be connected to a new form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in people.

The system, installed in Belfast in 1988 to help to stamp out brucellosis and tuberculosis in cattle, contains records of more than 13,000 cattle. Their ear-tag numbers enable the Northern Ireland Office to trace all cattle easily.

All movements of cattle are recorded, enabling farms and animals from herds afflicted with BSE to be readily identified.

The computer has been so successful in Ulster that the EU wants similar measures implemented for the rest of the United Kingdom.


Ministers scrape home in BSE vote

by Philip Webster and James Landale
The Times ... November 14 1996

The fragility of the Government's Commons position was underlined last night when it survived an all-party attack on its handling of the BSE crisis by only one vote.

After an all-day debate in which ministers faced persistent attacks from Tory backbenchers, it defeated a Labour motion attacking the handling of the BSE crisis by 303 votes to 302. A vote on a government amendment welcoming the package of support to farmers was also carried by one vote although the House was wrongly told that the majority was eight.

It was the smallest government majority since it scraped through in the debate on the Scott report ­ again by one vote ­ last February. But ministers were pleased that on such a controversial issue, and with the Government's overall majority down to one after the death this month of Barry Porter, MP for Wirral South, they had still managed to stave off a damaging setback.

The Government had been prepared for the prospect of defeat after the Ulster Unionists said that they were coming to Westminster to demand special treatment for their BSE-free herds. Labour pulled out all the stops, even bringing ill MPs to the House.

Conservative MPs were upset after Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, admitted there was no immediate prospect of securing a lifting of the beef export ban.

The Ulster Unionist MPs were unhappy with Mr Hogg's acknowledgement that ministers had not yet submitted "detailed working papers" to try to secure a lifting of the ban for certified BSE-free herds in Scotland and Northern Ireland.


Hogg offers MPs little hope of an end to beef ban

by James Landale, Political Reporter
The Times ... November 14 1996

Douglas Hogg told MPs last night that there was little prospect of the European ban on British beef being lifted.

The Agriculture Minister said that the Government would instead concentrate its efforts on securing a partial lifting of the beef ban on specialist grass-fed beef herds , which were less at risk of contracting BSE, and those cattle born after August 1 this year.

Mr Hogg said that Britain's European partners would be unlikely to lift the ban entirely even if the Government began a cull on cattle most at risk. However, he dismayed Ulster Unionists by admitting that the Government had not yet submitted "detailed working papers" to try to secure a lifting of the ban for certified BSE-free herds in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

"We are not going to get from the member states an absolute guaranteed timetable leading to dates when the ban will be lifted," Mr Hogg said during a Labour-initiated debate on the BSE crisis . "We aren't going to get that and I am not going to pretend that we are because if I did I would be deceiving the House."

He added that the most that EU countries would even consider was a partial lifting of the ban on some specific BSE-free herds.

However, many Tory MPs, including the former Cabinet minister Tom King, said it was time to reconsider introducing the cull. Mr King opposed the cull last July but last night said: "Now we should seriously address the issue and address it seriously with the Commission."

John Greenway (C, Ryedale) said: "There is growing support among farmers to go ahead with the cull so we hold to our side of the bargain. Surely it would be possible to get agreement with Franz Fischler [the European Agriculture Commissioner] to find a way of resolving this connundrum that unless we have the cull, we will not get the ban lifted."

Bill Cash (C, Stafford) accused Mr Hogg of using "weasel words". He said that the Government could get a guarantee from Europe to lift the ban if Britain fulfilled its side of the Florence agreement.

Sir Michael Spicer (C, Worcestershire S) said Mr Hogg was suggesting that Britain would get nothing in return for abiding by the Florence agreement. "Is it not time that we started to consider disruption again?" he asked, suggesting a "double whammy" with disruption over the 48-hour week.

The Rev Ian Paisley, the Democratic Unionist leader, urged ministers to promise that they would submit detailed working papers to try to secure a lifting of the ban for certified BSE-free herds, and Roy Beggs, (UUP, Antrim E) asked: "Why have these papers not been completed and forwarded?"

Mr Hogg said that discussions were taking place with the Commission but no formal proposal had been laid down.

He also faced fierce criticism from Tory MPs during an earlier debate after he again rejected cross-party pleas for compensation for the cattle head de-boning industry, which has been put out of business by the BSE controls.

Peter Viggers (C, Gosport) said: "If it is right to compensate the gun-owner for the loss of his gun, how much more must it be right to compensate someone made bankrupt by government edict?"

Robin Cook, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, attacked the Government for failing to reach its October and November targets for a lifting of the beef ban. He agreed that the ban should be lifted but added: "The Government has done too little too late."

He added: "So inept has the Government's response been that a bit of me wonders if its not just suiting them that the beef ban is there."

To Labour cheers, he told Mr Hogg: "There is no worse cynical opportunism than the way in which your Government seized on the beef ban to blame Europe for a crisis that was of their own making."

Those who had watched their way of life put at risk and their jobs go were watching the debate. "We owe it to them to vote against a Government that has failed them."

Research boost

The European Commission announced plans yesterday for a £40 million research programme into spongiform encephalopathies, which include BSE in cattle and CJD in humans. Edith Cresson, commissioner for research, said that the amount spent at present was inadequate and that the programme was urgently needed.

Calf slaughter

From the Director of Compassion in World Farming
The Times ... Tuesday 12 November 1996

Sir,

Hidden in the midst of Mr Douglas Hogg's new EU package of "support" for cattle farmers is an appalling development ­ the extension of slaughter subsidies to beef-breed calves (News in brief, October 31).

Since April the UK has slaughtered well over a quarter of a million male dairy-breed calves ­ the ones that would have been exported to continental veal farms. Now this scheme could double the numbers.

There is an inherent obscenity in mass slaughter of the newly-born. At the practical level, Compassion in World Farming fears many calves may receive scant care whilst still on the farm ­ they are, after all condemned animals. Already we hear of calves bought in the West Country being taken to the North East, and even Scotland, for slaughter ­ horrendous journeys for these vulnerable creatures.

What with the growing queue of cull cattle and the increasing level of calf slaughter, it looks like a winter where welfare provisions for these animals will be abandoned in the desperate attempt to fill our incinerators and land-fills, supply our petfood manufacturers and maggot farms and tempt the carnivorously inclined back to the beef-fold.

Yours sincerely, JOYCE D'SILVA,
Director,
Compassion in World Farming,
Charles House,
5A Charles Street,
Petersfield,
Hampshire


Apes needed for study on BSE effects

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Daily Telegraph ... Tuesday 12 November 1996

Colonies of apes should be established to investigate the threat that bovine spongiform encephalopathy poses to the human population, according to a Government research strategy.

The plan, launched by the Department of Health yesterday, identifies targets such as discovering the fundamental nature of the agent that causes BSE, CJD and similar diseases, and how it is transmitted, by a programme of research that includes the use of animals. "The work will make an urgently needed contribution to the protection of public health," said Prof John Swales, the department's director of research.

The Government has spent more than £50 million on research into transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), the family of diseases to which CJD and BSE belong, in the last five years. The report stresses that there is an "urgent need" for the development of animal facilities and "careful consideration" should be given to large-scale ape studies for up to a decade, even though the European Union plans similar work.

"I hope that Britain would wish to participate in such a study," said Prof Lesek Borysiewicz, the chairman of a Department of Health/Medical Research Council TSE advisory group. He said that the number of primates required for the experiment is sufficiently large that the work would have to be co-ordinated across the EU.

The strategy has been difficult to develop because the science is evolving and experiments take a long time, said Prof Swales.


Rethink on BSE study

News in Brief
The Times ... Tues 12 November 1996

Government scientists may have been wrong when they decided that cows infected with BSE could pass the disease to unborn calves. Danny Matthews, a veterinary adviser at the Agriculture Ministry, said that the study results announced in August were open to other interpretations, which included the possibility of no maternal transmission at all.