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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

From Russia with love

A situation is developing in the Russia with the potential to trigger
another BSE-type export ban on British farm produce ­only this time the
problem is Bovine TB.

The first intimation of this impending disaster came on 30 July when an
unannounced "customer information note" was posted on the DEFRA website.

This advised that, with effect from 30 September, the Russian Federation had
decided to rescind the current agreement bilateral agreement with the EU on
mutual recognition of export health certificates. Instead, Russia was to
impose its own specific health requirements, with the crucial difference
that it would no longer accept milk and milk products from herds unless they
were certified as TB-free.

And, as the DEFRA notice blandly announced, "Exports from EU Member States
will stop if Russia and the EU cannot agree certification by then".

Despite this information being posted on the DEFRA site, however, it seems
not to have been noticed. Nor was a subsequent posting, this one on 6
September, which reaffirmed Russiašs position is that it no longer wished to
allow imports of animals and animal products from individual EU member
states using bilaterally agreed export health certificates.

The situation, as it stood, was that the Federation would discuss new
certification only with the EU Commission, although it did agree to extend
the deadline to 1 January 2005.

Only within the last few days, however, did the British diary industry begin
to realise the implications of this hitherto obscure news. Is problem is
that, owing to the extraordinary neglect of the current Labour
administration, Bovine TB has been allowed to rip through the British dairy
herd ­ largely because of a refusal to control the increasingly infected
badger population.

Under current bilateral animal health agreements, however, milk from
restricted herds is acceptable as long as it has been pasteurised, but this
will no longer be the case once the new arrangements come into force. And,
because this milk is bulked with other supplies, it will not be possible to
certify that either milk or milk products from British farms are sourced
from TB free herds, the UK is looking to have its products banned from
Russia.

That, however, is the least of our problems. Owing to the wonders of the
Single Market, where our products can be exported freely to EU member
states, these is a distinct possibility that, because any dairy products
from any EU member states might contain British milk, Russia may well ban
all EU dairy products unless there is a guarantee that this milk is
excluded.

To protect its trade with Russia ­ which is extremely important to countries
like Poland and Germany - therefore, the EU may well be forced into a
position of banning the export of any milk or milk products from the UK,
unless guarantees can be given that it is source from TB-free herds ­ a
guarantee, under current conditions, that would be difficult if not
impossible to give.

At the very least, the growing number of dairy farmers, whose herds are
under TB restriction, might find their milk excluded from the wider market,
with the risk of a two-tier pricing structure, where they are paid less for
their milk.

But, with this product going only to the domestic market, it is only a
matter of time before one or other newspaper gets hold of the story and
starts asking why, if milk from TB restricted herds is not acceptable to our
EU neighbours, why British consumers are "forced" to drink it.

While the Bovine TB saga has, hitherto, been a domestic issue, it is now
creeping up the international agenda and now has the potential to
precipitate yet another crisis between Britain and the rest of the EU ­ all
courtesy of the Russian Federation and, of course, our own useless
government.
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# posted by Richard @ 2:12 PM