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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on the British Beef Ban

Below are extracts of Mr Major’s comments on the British beef ban, made during an interview in London held on Thursday 20th June 1996


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether the Florence Summit had been a defeat].

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t think that’s remotely true. Throughout this whole exercise we have been trying to find a deal that is right for British agriculture so that we can get the ban lifted and get British meat, which should never have been banned in the first place, exported right the way around the world. Now we’ve made much more progress on that over the last few weeks. At the outset, there was no likelihood that we were going to get a swift agreement, we are now getting a swift agreement. And the difference, of course, between the Government’s position and that of the Opposition is that we have to take action in the interests of the British agricultural industry. All they have to do is to try and make party political points, and frankly that’s all they’ve done.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked why there was no firm programme and no firm dates].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I wish you wouldn’t misquote what was said. Go back and see what was said and then you might wish to withdraw what you’ve just said. When I announced this policy, I said it would end when two things were achieved: firstly, when we had the lifting of the ban on beef derivatives and we have obtained that, and secondly when we had reached a framework that would enable the ban to be lifted. Those were the two objectives I set, not the ones set out by your reporter a few moments ago and not the ones just put to me a second ago.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked why that framework wasn’t in place].

PRIME MINISTER:

So perhaps, well we haven’t got the deal yet! That’s what I’m trying to settle in Florence as I suggest Mr Blair and Mr Ashdown and you wait and see what deal we actually get.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he would return from Florence with a date for the timetable].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I said emphatically in the House of Commons this afternoon that I wasn’t certain there would be a deal. But the point about a date is to utterly and totally misunderstand the nature of the problem. In order to get a deal there are certain actions that have to be carried out. Once we have agreed those actions, there are objective criteria for lifting the ban. The timetable is then within the hands of the British Government and the British agricultural industry to try and meet that timescale. So the timescale is in our hands. To say to our partners they must fix some arbitrary date without knowing whether the objective criteria is met, is plainly absurd and that is what we said at the outset and I wish people would stop misrepresenting it.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether tens of thousands of cows were being slaughtered to appease the European Union].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, but that isn’t the case, you see. That’s the mistake that was made by Mr Blair and Mr Ashdown and by others this afternoon. Under the original proposals recommended to us by our own scientists, by SEAC, under what has become known as the 30+ Scheme, the animals that we’re now talking about what have been slaughtered in any event. Nobody has dragged in large numbers of fresh animals. Some of the animals will be slaughtered a little earlier than would otherwise have been the case. They tend to be slaughtered at around 6 and a half years old. By definition, the animals that are now being talked about, those born in 1989-1990 are coming on for 6 and a half years old so they would be slaughtered within a matter of weeks, or a matter of months anyway and that is why it is so absurd of people to say firstly there are lots more animals because they were covered by the 30+ Scheme in any event and secondly that there’s massive extra slaughter because these animals were coming up for slaughter under that scheme anyway and that is the point that the Government’s critics seem not to have grasped.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if Europeans would have to eat British beef].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the point about getting the ban lifted is there’s no justification for not eating British beef, it’s not only British beef that isn’t being eaten at the moment - it’s Italian beef, German beef, French beef, Spanish beef. Because of the way the matter blew up out of all reasonable reckoning in the early part of this crisis, consumers have been frightened off beef. Now the scientists say it’s safe, the World Health Organisation say it’s safe and my interest is to try and reach a deal so that everybody can recognise that it is safe, this absurd publicity disappears and the consumer can begin to have confidence again in beef. There was no reason for the consumer to have lost confidence either here or abroad, and I wish to see it restored. That’s in the interests of Britain, the interests of Europe and in the interests of the world agricultural industry.