More cold storage sought in BSE cull
Protesting farmers try to disrupt BSE talks
Euro farm chief flees Irish demo
Fischler attacks UK for scrapping cattle cull deal
CJD sufferer faces premature death with a sense of humour
EU fear of 'mad cow' summit
Numbers for cull
Guide to Europe's beef business
Global Group bucks beef crisis with £1.2m
Scottish National Party Conference
BSE inquiry puts Hogg in dilemma

More cold storage sought in BSE cull

The Times: Britain: September 27 1996

THE Government is urgently considered hiring freezer ships and more cold-storage warehouses to clear the 200,000-plus backlog in the battle against BSE. Roger Freeman, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, admitted yesterday that the Government was failing to meet its targets for the cattle cull. Delays have been caused by the shortage of cold-storage space to house the unrendered cattle carcasses before incineration.

The Intervention Board has now drawn up a list of free refrigerated space throughout the country and is negotiating the possible lease of at least two refrigerated ships. Last night a Whitehall source sug gested that one ship might be docked in Belfast harbour and another at docks within easy reach of the South West of England.

Last night Mr Freeman declined to reveal the precise figure of the backlog, but it is "substantially higher" than the previous backlog of 180,000. Sir David Naish, NFU president, said the NFU had always been concerned that the Government was underestimating the backlog.

"The Government target for a UK throughput of 40,000 cattle a week by mid-October must be increased substantially ­ and earlier ­ by using every possible means of cold storage and direct incineration. Red tape and lengthy environmental assessments must not stand in the way of greater efficiency."

Protesting farmers try to disrupt BSE talks

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Dailt Telegraph ... Wednesday 25 September 1996

Franz Fischler, the EU farm commissioner, was rushed away by helicopter yesterday when 2,000 Irish farmers brandishing cattle skulls stormed the hotel where talks on emergency BSE aid were being held.

Even the promise of up to £800 million in extra help for Europe's beef farmers failed to soothe the demonstrators, who were prevented by police in riot gear from smashing their way into the hotel at Killarney, Co Kerry.

The farmers demanded further compensation and vented their anger at what is seen as Britain's mishandling of the crisis. "We can't be expected to pay for British bungling," said Pat Griffin, an Irish Farmers Association official.

Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, who attended the meeting at the end of the "informal" two-day gathering of EU farm ministers, was unscathed in the disturbances.

Mr Fischler ruled out any moves to ease the EU ban on British beef exports until London goes ahead with a cull of up to 147,000 cattle most at risk of BSE, as agreed by EU leaders in Florence in June. "The only possibility the commission has is to abide by the Florence agreement," he said. "It is in the hands of the British government."

As ministers agreed a package of emergency measures, to be implemented today, the Irish farmers rushed the building.

Chief Supt Fred Garvey, of Tralee police, said the farmers broke an agreement to remain at the gates but that there had been no breach of security. The gardai said later that Mr Fischler had left by helicopter "because he was late for an appointment."

John Boilan, a farmer from Co Monaghan, said he had lost about £20,000 this year due to the beef crisis. "The problem in Ireland is worse than anywhere else in Europe. We export more beef than anyone else. There has to be a solution to deal with this, decisions have to be made. I think everyone has been pussy-footing around too long."

The farm ministers pledged to spend more than £400 million of surplus money from the EU's 1996 budget to make early beef premium payments to farmers. These subsidies are usually paid in November, but the aim is to pay them this year before Oct 15.

Euro farm chief flees Irish demo

James Landale

The Times ... September 25 1996

Franz Fischler, European Agriculture Commissioner, had to leave beef talks in Ireland by helicopter yesterday when Irish farmers blocked roads around the hotel where EU ministers were meeting.

There was chaos when about 2,000 farmers broke through police barriers and reached the doors of the Hotel Europe in Killarney, Co Kerry. Holding cattle skulls, they lined up outside before being peacefully dispersed by police.

Some 8,000 farmers in all joined the protest over the lack of compensation for losses caused by the BSE crisis.

Fischler attacks UK for scrapping cattle cull deal

By Caroline Southey in Killarney

Financial Times ... Tuesday September 24 1996

The British government was yesterday accused of blocking European Union efforts to restore confidence in the beef market by abandoning the terms of a deal struck with its EU partners over BSE.

The attack by Mr Franz Fischler, European commissioner for agriculture, came as farm ministers met in Killarney in the Irish Republic to thrash out a package to rescue the beef sector from the effects of falling consumption and prices. The ministers are expected to finalise the package today, including the use of Ecu500m ($635m) funds from this year's farm budget.

Mr Fischler said BSE or mad cow disease was the "biggest crisis the EU had ever had". Britain's decision to ditch plans to cull 125,000 cattle was a "clear break" with the agreement reached in Florence in June for dealing with BSE, and every step away from the accord was "a step away from restoring confidence".

The key to ending the impasse was "all in the hands of the British", he added.

Mr Douglas Hogg, the British farm minister, said he hoped "there are steps we can all agree on which allow us to move forward on lifting the ban, for example, for certified herds".

Mr Jozias van Aartsen, the Dutch farm minister, stressed the ministers wanted to do everything to avoid the BSE affair dominating next week's summit of EU heads of government in Dublin. The summit has been called by the Irish presidency in an effort to breath new life into the intergovernmental conference on the future of the union.

The rescue package for the beef market is expected to include paying farmers Ecu500m out of an expected surplus of Ecu1.2bn from this year's budget. The money would normally have been returned to member states if unspent by October 15.

Mr Fischler said that urgent agreement was also necessary on measures to remove surplus beef from the market, including raising the ceiling for buying surplus stocks from 400,000 to 720,000 tonnes.

CJD sufferer faces premature death with a sense of humour

by Dominic Kennedy, Social Affairs Correspondent

The Times ... September 24 1996

Donald Spear and his wife Juliette who said that they are "just getting on with the situation in hand"


When Donald Spear first invited The Times into his home to talk about living with the human equivalent of "mad cow" disease, he filled the room with wisecracks, laughter and adventure stories about his life as a motorcycle courier. A year later, his wife Juliette does most of the talking as she cheerfully describes his existence. He cannot walk and has almost lost the power of speech.

Mr Spear, 33, did not think that he would live to learn the outcome of the High Court battle on behalf of himself and 18 others who contracted Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease from contaminated human growth hormone. Sixteen of those prescribed the hormone as youngsters so that they would reach normal height are already dead. In the summer, a judge ruled that the Department of Health was to blame for cases after July 1977, because by then there were warning signals that the treatment, given to 1,900 children between 1959 and 1985, was risky.

Mr Spear grew to 5ft 5in instead of 4ft 8in. Whether his family receives compensation will depend on when treatment was deemed to have started. He began receiving injections in 1977 but was referred to specialists before the key date. The case returns to the High Court at the end of the month and a final hearing is expected next year.

Mr Spear's positive and mocking attitude towards premature death has astonished experienced doctors. He asked a friend to tattoo his arm "Immortal so far". If somebody solemnly wished him good luck, he would chuckle: "I'll need it".

CJD robs a victim of his powers one by one. A year ago Mr Spear would insist on making coffee for a visitor, willing his hands to stop trembling. He continued walking, sometimes helped by a stick, until he fell in the kitchen in February on his way to the refrigerator to get an ice-cream. He broke his leg, spent eight weeks in bed, and has been immobile since.

Nurses, doctors and therapists begin to arrive at the small flat in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, that Mr Spear shared with his girlfriend for five years before they married in 1995, knowing he had a terminal illness. He is visited by Harash Narang, the scientist who believes he has found a way to diagnose CJD before death, although most experts believe it can be confirmed only by examining the remains of the brain.

The specialists have suffered their share of good-natured teasing from Mr Spear, who made jokes about being visited by so many women, but the couple's gratitude for their physical and emotional support is immeasurable. The front room is filled with his surgical bed, a hoist, a special armchair, fans and the rest of the paraphernalia needed to fulfil his desire to stay at home instead of retreating to hospital.

Mrs Spear, 36, who gave up her job in sales to care for her husband, says that in her husband's case CJD has involved a pattern of stabilisation followed by another deterioration. "It is like levels," she says, her hand making downward steps in the air. "If someone had said this to me a couple of years ago I would have been horrified, but you just get on with the situation in hand."

EU fear of 'mad cow' summit

Charles Bremner

The Times ... September 24 1996

Brussels: European ministers yesterday brushed off British hopes of the EU beef ban being lifted without a full-scale slaughter programme, as fears grew on the Continent that John Major could hijack next week's Dublin summit, turning it into another "mad cow" disease showdown (Charles Bremner writes).

Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, met dismay from EU colleagues in Ireland over what they see as Britain's breach of its undertaking to start culling 147,000 cattle.

Number culled

Staff Reporter

The Times ... September 23 1996

The owner of an abattoir in Stockton-on-Tees, Co Durham, has removed the number plate P6 BSE from his new £50,000 Mercedes after protests from farmers. Michael Broad said that it was a family joke which had backfired.

FT guide to Europe's beef business

By Caroline Southey

Financial Times ... Monday September 23 1996

Has the European Union's beef market collapsed as a result of the scare over mad cow disease? Nearly, but not quite. What has collapsed is consumer confidence. Shoppers are turning their noses up at all things beef, preferring to eat pork, chicken, fish or lamb. In the last six months, average beef consumption in the EU has fallen by 11 per cent. In Germany it has fallen by 30 per cent. The collapse in sales has driven prices down by between 13 per cent and 21 per cent compared with last year. A beef mountain of surplus stocks is expected to reach nearly 1m tonnes this year.

Why? People are scared. Panic set in late last March when a junior minister in the UK government announced in parliament that there was a possible link between bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease, and a rare but fatal human brain disease, Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (CJD). There is no conclusive proof the two are linked, but alarm bells sounded when British scientists identified a new strain of CJD. As of June this year, 11 people in Britain had died from it. The assumption is that BSE was the most likely cause.

What has been done about it? A great deal. A worldwide ban has been slapped on British beef and beef products; the British government has slaughtered more than 500,000 cattle as part of its scheme to remove all cattle over 30 months of age from the food chain (older cattle are more at risk than younger ones); mammalian protein, considered to be the cause of the problem, was banned from all animal feed in March (it was banned from cattle feed in 1988); and tough controls have been put on all slaughterhouses and processing plants.

Isn't that enough? No. Britain's EU partners want it to kill about 125,000 cows considered to be most at risk from the disease. The British government says it won't. Its main line of defence is that, according to most prognoses, the disease will die out by 2001 anyway, and that to eliminate BSE overnight it would have to slaughter half the country's dairy herds and 15 per cent of its beef herds. Britain also says the ban on mammalian protein has led to an 80 per cent drop in the number of BSE cases since the disease peaked in the winter of 1992-1993.

Isn't the EU being a bit unreasonable? Perhaps. But the EU tends to take a tough line when it comes to animal diseases. Germany, Spain and Italy have had to slaughter millions of animals when evidence of diseases such as foot and mouth has emerged. Its policy of mass slaughter is justified on the grounds that the EU is a single market and animals, with their diseases, can travel quickly across borders.

Are there any other useful precedents on the BSE front? Not many. Britain has had more cases than any other country in Europe - 163,000 at the last count. In Ireland and France entire herds are slaughtered when cases of BSE are found. Switzerland has just announced it will kill 230,000 cattle, or one in eight of its herd, to eradicate the disease within three years. With 223 cases of BSE, Switzerland has had the second highest number after the UK.

How much of all this is driven by science and how much by politics? That depends entirely which side of the fence you are on. For the British there is more than a sneaking suspicion that the EU's demands are punitive. But in continental Europe there is a widespread view that the British government has chosen to use the BSE affair to placate the anti-European lobby in the ruling Conservative party. EU countries are sore because their markets are in a bit of a mess. The biggest problem facing both sides is the lack of conclusive scientific evidence on the issue.

So is British beef safe to eat? That depends on your definition of "safe". Britain's Ministry of Agriculture says that "in any common usage of the word, beef is safe". Britain's prime minister, John Major, has ostentatiously served beef to visiting heads of state, including Germany's Chancellor Helmut Kohl. But large numbers of people remain unimpressed. Even a ban on British beef has not prevented consumers in continental Europe turning their backs on the stuff.

Have any useful lessons been learnt? Yes. There seems to be general agreement that making carnivores out of ruminants is a bad idea. The official theory is that BSE was caused by cattle being fed meat and bone meal made from sheep infected by the disease scrapie. One possible outcome is that farmers will be encouraged to abandon intensive farming techniques, where larger numbers of cattle are fed processed food, and adopt much more traditional methods, in which cattle are raised primarily on grass.

Is there an end in sight to this sorry affair? Nobody knows. The way things are going, the EU will have introduced its single currency at the start of 1999 before British beef makes it back on to continental supermarket shelves.

Global Group bucks beef crisis with £1.2m

By Emma-Lou Montgomery

Daily Telegraph ... Thursday 26 September 1996

Confidence in beef is coming back, Ken Manley, chairman of Global Group, the food trading, port services and mechanical handling concern, claimed yesterday.

Unveiling a 36pc rise in group turnover to £73m, which boosted profits in the first half by 42pc to £1.2m pre-tax, Mr Manley said demand for beef products at recently-acquired Mawbeef showed evidence of a return to last year's levels. The news sent the shares up 2 to 20p, as Mr Manley described how Global had bucked the trend and escaped from the downward spiral of plunging beef sales and declining profits, which resulted in a number of casualties.

In what he described as "a year dominated by the worst crisis ever experienced in the meat industry," sales at the group soared, as confidence in British beef disintegrated and consumers switched to imported beef and non-beef alternatives.

"We are primarily meat importers so the ban on beef exports and collapse in domestic demand did affect us. Demand for some beef-related products fell to very low levels," Mr Manley said.

But, he added: "Demand for non-beef products rose as menu substitution took place, boosting demand for pork, poultry and lamb to an unprecedented degree, resulting in an excellent 34pc growth in sales, a result which ran significantly contrary to the trend in the industry."

In line with the predicted upturn, the group is lifting the interim dividend, payable to shareholders on November 29, to 0.21p from 0.2p last time.

Meanwhile, Brake Bros, the catering trade supplier, in which Mr Manley is a non-executive director and major shareholder, also turned in a 7pc rise in profits in the first-half to £12.4m pre-tax, on the back of a 38pc rise in group turnover to £296m, sending the shares up 5 to 749p.

Looking forward, chairman William Brake said: "While the British catering market is highly competitive, we continue to believe we can perform well and a strong balance sheet will enable us to take advantage of growth opportunities as they arise."

The interim dividend, payable to shareholders on December 31, is lifted from 2.7p to 2.0p.

Scottish National Party Conference

By Auslan Cramb, Scotland Correspondent

Daily Telegraph ... Thursday 26 September 1996

The conference called for a cross-party approach to the European Union in an effort to have the beef ban lifted in Scotland. Dr Allan Macartney MEP said he had been told by Franz Fischler, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, that Scottish herds, which have a much lower incidence of BSE, could be treated separately from the rest of Britain.

He appealed for a display of unity from the Scottish parties, and asked Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary, to accept an all-party delegation as a logical way out of the current impasse. He claimed that many beef farmers in the north of Scotland were "hanging on by their fingertips" and losing 25 per cent on every animal they sold. He said that about 6,000 animals would have to be culled in Scotland to meet EU conditions.

He added: "The tragedy is that we have had six months of inaction from the Government, and we must now take all possible steps to get Scottish beef back into its vital export markets at the earliest possible opportunity."

Rob Gibson, the SNP's agriculture spokesman, said the problem for the Scottish beef industry lay in London, not in Brussels. "The regional approach is one that the SNP has been arguing for six months. Because of the low incidence of BSE in Scotland, an eradication slaughter policy could be completed in Scotland now, given the relatively small number of animals involved. But what is very clear is that there is no way back into Europe unless and until such a cull takes place."

BSE inquiry puts Hogg in dilemma

Charles Bremner

The Times ... September 26 1996

The European Parliament yesterday called Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, before a Brussels inquiry to explain Britain's handling of the BSE affair.

The hearing is on October 8, the first day of the Tory conference, where he is due to open a debate. If Mr Hogg decides to testify he will face hostile questions from MEPs, most of whom believe that Britain has grossly mishandled the BSE affair.

The request is the first made to any minister of a national government since the parliament was given powers under the Maastricht treaty to convene committees of inquiry. An official of the parliamentary commission said: "There is no legal power to force somebody to come. But it is then a public affair that a British minister has refused to collaborate with a committee of inquiry."

Mr Hogg may ask to appear before the inquiry on another date or offer to send a junior minister in his place.