Document Directory

29 May 97 - Britain may ban German beef over BSE fears
29 May 97 - Farmers lose role as local advisers
23 May 97 - Bonn softens stance on mad cow disease
21 May 97 - Unhygienic abattoirs face closure
02 May 97 - Farmers call for limits on EU beef
26 Apr 97 - Tests on labrador could prove BSE has spread to dogs
26 Apr 97 - Sausages and burgers worth 50m dumped
26 Apr 97 - EU rejects Hoog plan
23 Apr 97 - New agency 'would end food scares'
22 Apr 97 - BSE: Auditors examine 'mad cow' payments
19 Apr 97 - Farming in the mire
19 Apr 97 - Beef profits 'too high'
18 Apr 97 - MAFF at it again
16 Apr 97 - Culling begins at home
17 Apr 97 - New call for Hogg to go
13 Apr 97 - Beef found in lamb and pork mince

29 May 97 - Britain may ban German beef over BSE fears

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 29 May 1997

The Government may ban imports of beef from Germany and other EU countries which do not observe Britain's strict abattoir hygiene controls to protect consumers from mad cow disease, John Cunningham, Minister of Agriculture, signalled yesterday.

But he made clear that a decision, which would embroil the Government in its first clash with the European Union, must be taken at the highest level of Government, including the Prime Minister.

While insisting that the Government did not intend to take "unilateral" action against imports from other EU countries, Dr Cunningham conceded that it might have little choice if curbs are called for in the next few days by the Government's independent Spongiform Encephalopathies Advisory Committee (SEAC).

Some members of the committee, which advises the Government on BSE and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), are demanding curbs on any imported beef which does not comply with the British hygiene controls .

They say it is nonsense to import increasing amounts of meat from other countries which have suffered BSE in their cattle herds while it is produced to lower hygiene standards than British beef.

The British beef is banned from export anywhere in the world on the grounds that it might pose a risk to health. SEAC provoked the beef crisis in March last year when it announced a possible link between BSE and a new form of CJD in young people. So far, 15 people have died from the new form of the fatal brain illness. There is one other "probable" victim.

The Conservative Government followed every recommendation by the committee. Dr Cunningham said "If SEAC advises us to act, I will have to refer this advice to the Prime Minister. Then we will publish that advice."

It would be "difficult not to act" if SEAC called for curbs. "At least it would be action based on scientific opinion," he added. There was no uniformity in Europe, he said, on ways of dealing with specified offals, including the thymus, spleen, brain and other materials deemed most likely to harbour the deadly BSE agent. In some countries, cattle brains are still a delicacy .

He had persuaded the EU Commission to reconsider an earlier decision not to impose Britain's tough controls, introduced before and after the beef crisis broke last March, on all countries in the community.

He identified Germany, where resistance to British beef exports is strongest, as one country which did not observe the controls. Germany has suffered a handful of BSE cases . Prof John Pattison, chairman of SEAC, said yesterday: "The committee has already met to discuss the question of imported beef and is now considering its position. I hope that a recommendation to ministers can be made by the end of this week. It may be before the weekend or just after.

"I cannot pre-empt the committee's decision. We will report to ministers, who will decide what action to take. It will also be up to ministers to decide whether to publish our advice. The previous Government did and I see no reason why this Government will not do the same."

Farmers and meat industry leaders are angry that beef imports from Germany, Holland, France and Ireland, which have all suffered cases of BSE, have been soaring in recent months to take advantage of a recovery in sales on the British market.

These imports have hit cattle prices, now running at about 91p a kilo, about 6p a kilo lower than at the height of the beef crisis last year.

15 May 1997: Europe-wide ban on offal planned

Helen Cranford in Brussels writes: The European Commission is expected today to impose sanctions on Norwegian salmon producers who are threatening the livelihoods of Scottish and Irish fish farmers.

Sir Leon Brittan, the EU's chief trade negotiator, is believed to have recommended a 13.7 per cent import duty after Commission experts found that Norwegian producers had received state subsidies, enabling them to undercut their competitors.

29 May 97 - Farmers lose role as local advisers

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 29 May 1997

Farmers were dropped as local advisers to the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday - ending a relationship dating from the Second World War and paving the way for more consumer power in MAFF.

John Cunningham, the Minister of Agriculture, said that the ministry's nine regional panels in England were being scrapped to help to transform MAFF into "a more direct, open and accessible ministry for consumers and farmers alike".

In a move which signalled a weakening of farmer influence in the wake of the beef crisis and other food scares, Dr Cunningham said it was "time to move on", and that consumers should be given more priority.

The advisory panels, each of which costs up to 24,000 a year to run, were set up in 1972 to replace statutory county agricultural executive committees established during the war to maximise food production. Each panel had nine members, mostly farmers, who met several times a year to advise MAFF on local issues affecting crops, livestock and the environment. Members were unpaid but could draw expenses.

Dr Cunningham said he had written to all the members thanking them for their work. From now on, he said, junior ministers at MAFF would take over the panels' role in three designated areas of the country.

Jeff Rooker, the food safety minister, will cover the Northern, North Mercia and South Mercia region, Elliott Morley, the countryside and fisheries minister, will cover the East Midlands, the North-East and East Anglia. Lord Donouhue, the minister for the farming and food industry, will be responsible for the South-East, South-West and Wessex. Consumers' representatives are to be appointed to all advisory committees of MAFF.

Sir David Naish, the president of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales, said: "The NFU has had a solid working relationship with the regional panels and farmers will be disappointed to see this useful channel of communication closed."

MAFF is to be renamed this year in another move expected to place consumers first and in preparation for the independent Food Standards Agency promised by the Government.

23 May 97 - Bonn softens stance on mad cow disease

by Roger Boyes, in Bonn, and Michael Hornsby

The Times ... May 23 1997

Germany eased its hardline stance on "mad cow" disease yesterday, conceding for the first time that the transmission of the disease from cow to calf was "very unlikely".

The admission by the Federal Agriculture Ministry does not mean the ban on British beef is about to be lifted but suggests Bonn may be taking a more pragmatic approach to a problem that has bedevilled relations between Britain and the rest of Europe. Fears of maternal transmission of BSE have fuelled demands in the European Union for a more extensive cull of British cattle at risk that way. British research suggests that maternal transmission does occasionally occur but not often enough to prolong the epidemic or to warrant a more extensive cull. If that is accepted in Bonn, the Government could find it easier to get agreement on relaxing the beef export ban, at least for meat from Northern Ireland, where there has been little BSE.

Some 14,000 offspring of cattle originating from Britain or Switzerland have been quarantined in Germany since the discovery of a BSE-infected Galloway cow in Westphalia at the end of last year. The cow was later found to be an import from Britain but confusion over its origin was enough to spark a new wave of "mad cow" panic in Germany.

21 May 97 - Unhygienic abattoirs face closure

By David Brown, Agriculture Correspondent

Telegraph ... Wednesday 21 May 1997

Abattoirs will be closed if they do not comply with hygiene standards designed to protect the consumer , the Government warned yesterday.

Jeff Rooker, the food safety minister, ordered the Meat Hygiene Service to get tough with slaughterhouses which were damaging public confidence in food. He told Johnston McNeill, chief executive of the MHS, which is responsible for enforcing abattoir regulations, that he should "be in no doubt where the Government's priorities lie ."

"The service should work with industry to eliminate the poor practices that are still too common," he said. "Every piece of meat that we eat must be produced to the highest of standards."

About 31 abattoirs in England alone - about three per cent of the total - which operate under special derogations from regulations are most at risk from the new policy. In March, 45 MHS employees were disciplined and three dismissed for failing to follow rules intended to stop the spread of BSE . Earlier, there were accusations that a report condemning hygiene standards in abattoirs and which could have prevented the E coli outbreak in Scotland which killed 20 people was suppressed by the then Agriculture Minister, Douglas Hogg.

Concern has been expressed that rules ordering removal of specified bovine offal from carcasses have not been followed rigorously.

The MHS welcomed Mr Rooker's call. It pointed out that the proportion of abattoirs operating outside required standards had been reduced from 70 per cent in 1993 to only three per cent.

02 May 97 - Farmers call for limits on EU beef

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 2 May 1997

Beef industry leaders demanded urgent restrictions on imported meat yesterday as farmers reeled from a further collapse in cattle prices to their lowest level since 1981.

They would be seeking urgent talks with the new Minister of Agriculture from today to end EU "discrimination" which was threatening to drive many British farmers out of beef production. Don Curry, chairman of the Meat and Livestock Commission, the statutory sales promotional body, said: "We find ourselves in the absurd position that, while British beef of the highest standard cannot be exported, Britain is importing beef of lower standards. This cannot be right or acceptable."

The EU's worldwide ban on British beef exports was costing the industry 650 million a year and there was "no scientific or medical justification for it," he said. In an angry outburst at Beef '97, an international exhibition at the Royal Welsh showground at Builth Wells, Mr Curry said the beef industry was still in crisis.

Average market prices for beef cattle have plunged to 90.38p a kilo this week - more than 2p lower than last week and about 7p a kilo lower than at the height of the beef crisis last year.

"The combination of the strong pound, a European beef market flat on the floor and plenty of chiller wagons looking for return loads has led to a big increase in low priced beef imports."

Imports soared in January. "Our market intelligence tells us that imports rose again in February, March and continued in April."

Farmers' leaders will press today for more compensation from the European Union and the Government.

26 Apr 97 - Tests on labrador could prove BSE has spread to dogs

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Tuesday 29 April 1997

Brain sections from a dog have been sent to Britain by Norwegian pathologists to confirm that it is the first example of canine spongiform disease , akin to BSE.

The move came as Labour accused the Government of excessive secrecy for not publishing results of a 1991 study to investigate the possibility of BSE being transferred to dogs.

The 11-year-old labrador suffered nervous symptoms, lack of muscle co-ordination and seizures. A post mortem examination showed that its brain had a spongiform appearance , said Prof Jon Teige, a pathologist at the Norwegian College of Veterinary Medicine in Oslo.

"To our surprise, we saw these lesions in the brain similar to those observed in scrapie in sheep and mad cow disease," said Prof Teige. If confirmed, it would mark the first example of the disease in a dog.

Samples have had been sent to the Institute of Animal Health's neuropathogenesis unit in Edinburgh for a second opinion. "Although there are some features of the pathology in common with spongiform encephalopathies, a number of other conditions have similar aspects," said Dr Chris Bostock, of the institute.

If confirmed, it is also important to determine if it is the spontaneous form of BSE or if the dog had been infected in its diet and had a transmissible disease. About 95 per cent of Norway's dog and cat food is imported, mainly from Britain . Parts of bovine material, which could contain BSE, were removed from the animal food chain in 1990.

Scientists are interested in whether dogs are susceptible but confirmation would not change the big picture of BSE, Dr Bostock said. Dr Gavin Strang, shadow food minister, yesterday accused Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture Minister, of secrecy over BSE research. "This work on possible BSE in dogs was funded by the public," he said. "Results should have been made public."

The Government ruled out further research on dogs yesterday despite disclosures in a report six years ago that there was a possibility that they could catch a form of mad cow disease from contaminated food. "It is unnecessary," said a spokesman. "There is no threat to human or animal health."

Tests six years ago by ministry experts on the brains of 444 hunting hounds found some abnormalities called fibrils. However, some brains had started to degenerate, making the results ambiguous.

The results were passed to the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee, which agreed that they were inconclusive and ruled out further research because there was no public health issue. "We don't eat dogs in Britain ," the spokesman said.

Mr Hogg said that the research on dogs and BSE "adds nothing to human knowledge" during a tour of the North-East which included a visit to a sausage factory in marginal Stockton South.

26 Apr 97 - Sausages and burgers worth 50m dumped

By David Brown

Telegraph ... Saturday 26 April 1997

A row erupted last night over the dumping of more than 30,000 tons of prime beef, pies and burgers worth 50 million in landfill sites .

Sausages, lasagne and meals containing beef are also being buried. The food, which could not be sold after being caught up in the crisis, is being thrown away by the Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce, a Government agency. It is costing 2 million in transport charges to take the food to the sites. Another 9,000 tons of beef and beef products in export consignments have been dumped abroad.

Sir Richard Body, Euro-sceptic Tory candidate for Holland with Boston, said: "It is a disgrace while we are importing beef from other EU countries and while prices in the shops keep going up."

26 Apr 97 - EU rejects Hoog plan

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday 26 April 1997

Hopes of an end to the beef crisis vanished yesterday after Brussels rejected the Government's main scheme to end the worldwide export ban imposed by the EU more than a year ago.

As market prices for cattle slumped to their lowest level for 16 years, angry farmers' leaders were seeking an urgent meeting with the EU commissioners. The National Farmers' Union of England and Wales said: "Many may be doubting if Europe is serious about lifting the ban."

A leaked letter from Emma Bonino, the food safety commissioner, and Franz Fischler, the agriculture commissioner, to Douglas Hogg, the Minister of Agriculture, showed that there was no chance of a lifting of the ban, even though the Government claims that it has now met all the pre-conditions agreed at last summer's Florence summit.

The EU commissioners told Mr Hogg that Britain's certified herds scheme - the cornerstone of efforts to reassure overseas consumers - did not go far enough. As Labour and the Liberal Democrats joined farmers in renewed attacks on the Government's handling of the beef crisis, only Mr Hogg was upbeat about the letter - finding it "encouraging".

Farmers and the Government had pinned their hopes on the certified herds scheme which identifies beef animals born in herds which have never had a mad cow disease case and which have not lived in, or passed through, herds with a BSE case in the past six years.

The two commissioners conceded that it would be "relatively simple" to manage a cattle identification system in Northern Ireland because of its computerised database. But in Great Britain, certification would depend on declarations by farmers and Brussels was unhappy about their accuracy.

They also noted that "the British Veterinary Association seems to be against the certified herd scheme". They called for further checks on Britain's beef industry.

On Wednesday the EU will announce that it is re-imposing the ban on exports of gelatin because experts say that Britain's heat-treatment controls are not tough enough to guarantee BSE eradication. That ban was lifted last June.

Sir David Naish, farmers' union president, said he was "very concerned and disappointed" and was seeking an urgent meeting with the EU and "a new Minister of Agriculture".

Scottish farmers said it had warned the Government that Europe would impose even stricter conditions if it continued to seek special status for Northern Ireland. Sandy Mole, Scottish farmers' union president, said: "We will be going back to Brussels to unpick this latest mess from Mr Hogg."

Farmers' leaders called yesterday for up to 500 million to compensate them for the strength of the pound which has led to lower EU prices and subsidies. The money, to be paid over three years, would be met equally from Brussels and the Treasury.

23 Apr 97 - New agency 'would end food scares'

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Wednesday 23 April 1997

Food scares and scandals could become a thing of the past if the next Government removes the regulatory powers of the Ministry of Agriculture and creates a system of quality standards driven by a national food agency, three leading food policy experts say in a new report.

The quality targets should be drawn up by the British Standards Institution and the new agency, they say. But they warn that an agency such as that promised by Labour and the Liberal Democrats would not succeed in making food safer if it were modelled simply on the current Health and Safety Executive, the Audit Commission, the Environment Agency or the US Food and Drug Administration. The Conservatives now favour a food safety council headed by a food safety officer.

The report, Food Standards and the State: A Fresh Start, published today, recommends that the agency "should draw on desirable characteristics from different models, rather than mirroring one alone".

Its authors - Professor Tim Lang, director of the Centre for Food Policy at Thames Valley University, Dr Mike Rayner, head of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford and Dr Erik Millstone, senior lecturer in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex - say any new agency should be responsible to the Cabinet through the Secretary of State for Health or a new Minister of Public Health.

They also recommend that:

Its role should primarily be to give advice rather than enforce regulations. It should not be too remote from ministers to allow them to disclaim responsibilty for decisions. It should take a "plough to plate" perspective along the food chain. Its remit should cover all food standards from nutrition to the environment and should not concentrate on food safety alone. It should be independent of the food industry and have an open information policy, keeping nothing secret.

The three experts say regulatory powers should be removed from the Ministry of Agriculture and it should be reformed to become nothing more than a department sponsoring the farming and fishing communities, food processing, distribution and retail sectors.

22 Apr 97 - BSE: Auditors examine 'mad cow' payments

By Alison Maitland

Financial Times ... Tuesday April 22 1997

The National Audit Office in London and the European Court of Auditors are separately investigating UK government spending on the BSE - "mad cow" - crisis, it emerged yesterday.

The investigation by the audit office, parliament's public spending watchdog, follows opposition party complaints that large abattoirs "made a killing " from government payments for the destruction of all cattle aged more than 30 months.

Sir John Bourn, comptroller and auditor general, is studying the administration of the cull scheme, under which 1.4m cattle have been destroyed, and the separate slaughter of 100,000 animals most at risk of developing BSE.

His report, which is due by the end of the year, is also likely to consider how the government calculates and disburses aid payments to farmers, renderers and other sectors of the meat chain, arrangements for storage and incineration of carcases, and the system for obtaining refunds from the European Union.

The European Court of Auditors, which has extensive investigative powers to ensure probity and value for money, is looking at how EU finance for the beef crisis has been spent.

Mr Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat party's farming spokesman who has led calls for an inquiry into what he calls "the wasted BSE millions ", welcomed the investigations. "The failure of ministers to put the cull programme out to competitive tender was a national scandal," he said.

Mr Tyler claimed British taxpayers could have to pay between 300m ($486m) and 500m more for the crisis if EU funding for the cull scheme was withdrawn because of overpayments. The government has put the cost of the BSE crisis to 2000 at 3.3bn. The EU is funding 70 per cent of some programmes and the UK 30 per cent - but officials say the UK ends up paying the bulk of the total because the receipt of EU aid means it loses budget rebates.

The two inquiries are separate but National Audit Office staff will accompany officers from the European Court on some of their visits in the UK. Opposition politicians first called for an independent inquiry last August when the Financial Times revealed that abattoirs had been paid far more than their costs for the cull.

The small number of approved abattoirs were paid 87.50 per animal between May and August. The Intervention Board, the agency handling the slaughter, then reduced the price to 41 after a report on the actual costs by Coopers & Lybrand, the accountants. Smaller abattoirs said they could have done the job for 30 to 35 per animal.

19 Apr 97 - Farming in the mire

Arts & Books

Telegraph ... Saturday April 19 1997

Britain's agriculture is being destroyed by subsidies and chemicals, finds Richard Mabey

The Killing of the Countryside by Graham Harvey Jonathan Cape, 16.99, 218 pp ------------------------------------------------------------------------

The recent discovery by geneticists that the people of Britain are chiefly descended from local hunter-gatherers rather than immigrant Mediterranean farmers will come as a mighty relief even to the animal rights lobby. Fox-hunting is a charming parlour game compared to the cannibalistic obscenities of cattle-feeding in the 1980s .

Can any profession have fallen so precipitously from public grace as agriculture? From being what defined the countryside and a metaphor for the life of the nation - honest stewardship in the open air - it has sunk into a slurry of toxic chemicals and bloated subsidies .

It has ruined the rural economy and the rural landscape and given us the most contaminated diet in Western Europe, for which dubious privileges we consumers pay farmers 6.5 billion a year in subsidies.

So argues Graham Harvey in this uncompromising and angry book. Much of his thesis is of course familiar in outline: the continuing destruction of wildlife; the pollution of drinking water by fertiliser run-off; BSE and E coli ; the bizarre spectacle of grant-aided set-aside - public payment, as with so much on modern farms, for doing nothing. What is new is that he supports these nebulous worries with facts and figures (he is Agricultural Story Editor of The Archers, a gamekeeper turned poacher) that make your hair stand on end.

In 1994, for example, 5,000 farmers received more than 50,000 in arable and livestock subsidies. He also draws out a structural pattern in what often seems no more than a wholesale but random collapse into rural sleaze .

His story is in many ways a literal tragedy, since there is an awful inevitability about the fall of farming into the mire. Ever since the agricultural revolution and the Enclosures, it has become both more industrialised and more specialised. Farmers ceased to be major employers of local labour and self-sufficient in terms of their fertilisers, seed resources and livestock.

They no longer had the need - and soon, the ability - to integrate with local village life or to understand the ecological workings of the land. By the end of the Second World War, the split was so severe that farming had become inextricably dependent on the vast trans-national chemical companies and corporate management groups that had come into being to parasitise their real estate. It is teasing out the grim details of this dependency culture that is the book's most depressing but salutary contribution.

It begins in the soil itself, now so depleted by erosion on most farms that it cannot be made to grow anything without artificial fertilisers. And there is worse, as some of the big chemical firms are now producing genetically modified crops which can only be grown using their own brands of herbicide - a frightening combination of consumer addiction and monopoly supply.

The food-processing giants - in 1994 just eight processors accounted for 60 per cent of the entire UK food market - insist on standardised, blemish-free raw materials, thereby making it uneconomical for growers to work outside the vicious circle of chemical control. Even the vestigial skills of the farmers themselves - what to plant, when to spray, how to harvest - are entirely dictated by outside business interests.

The biggest beneficiaries of this system - and of the subsidies that drive it - are the agricultural chemical companies . Their UK receipts were 1.3 billion in 1994, most of it from taxpayers' money, which makes them an unsavoury example of backdoor nationalisation.

What is to be done? Graham Harvey recommends the immediate end to subsidies , and it is hard to disagree. For those who suggest that this would lead to an even greater assault on the last remnants of living countryside to restore profits, he cites the case of New Zealand, which began a programme to end subsidies in 1984. The results have been entirely beneficial, with land prices falling, more small farmers getting back to the land, a greatly reduced use of chemicals, and attractive marginal land being taken out of production altogether.

A crucial accompaniment to the ending of farm support which Harvey doesn't mention is the abolition of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food . Britain no more needs a Ministry devoted to the interests of the agriculture and food industries than it needs a Ministry for Wallpaper or Deodorants. The only case for its existence in peacetime is that farming, in ways invisible to ordinary mortals, supports the landscape, ecology and infrastructure of the countryside - an argument which this book stone-grinds to a fault.

MAFF's current duties should be split between Environment and a new department devoted to food quality. Then perhaps we could begin to regenerate a socially and ecologically responsible farming system, with many more small, organically biased farms, serving and supplying their local communities.

Richard Mabey is the author of 'Flora Britannica' (Sinclair-Stevenson).

19 Apr 97 - Beef profits 'too high'

By David Brown, Agriculture Editor

Telegraph ... Saturday April 19 1997

Retailers were accused yesterday of making excessive profits from beef while farmers were receiving their lowest prices for 16 years.

Farmers are now getting about 90p a kilo of beef but shop prices average 5.70 a kilo, compared with 6.10 a kilo before the BSE scare. Jim Watson, former president of the Livestock Auctioneers' Association, said: "Farmers are getting 25p a pound less than before the BSE crisis. This is not being reflected on shop shelves."

But supermarkets denied profiting at the farmers' expense. Sainsbury's said retailers were now unable to use as much of the carcass as before the BSE crisis. Tesco said that costs had risen because retailers had to pay for the disposal of offal and quality and safety controls.

18 Apr 97 - MAFF at it again

UK Correspondent

Source BBC News ... Saturday Friday 18 1997

MAFF have released a press notice claiming that the vertical transmission of BSE from cow to calf is so insignificant that it will make no difference to MAFF's predicted timescale for the elimination of BSE from the British Beef herd. A figure of less than 0.1% was quoted, but as is customary with MAFF no substantiating data were released.

Will MAFF's 100% record of incorrect BSE predictions and misinterpretation be maintained? Time will tell!

16 Apr 97 - Culling begins at home

Alan Hamilton

The Times ... April 16 1997

Devon cattlemen want the head of Hogg

What the hard-pressed farmers of Devon want is a Hogg cull . Unless John Major can assure them that a future Conservative government will eliminate all traces of Hogg from Britain's farms, they will not vote for it.

Farmers are usually a down-to-earth breed, but when they confronted the Prime Minister in the auction ring of Tavistock cattle market yesterday, they could not bring the name for the ailment to their lips: they constantly referred to it by its drawing-room euphemism "the Minister of Agriculture".

Mr Major, like a prevaricating vet who will not tell you what is wrong with your cow, hinted he had a cure for Hogg . In a new Tory Government he would take a hands-on approach to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Tavistock is at the heart of the intensively farmed constituency of Torridge and West Devon, held last time by Emma Nicholson with a 3,800 majority until she was injected with a strain of mad cow disease and turned into a Liberal Democrat. The Tories have smartly replaced her as candidate by importing good Scotch stock. Ian Liddell-Grainger is a bluff Borders beef farmer who knows all about cattle culls. The Liberal Democrat challenger, a local councillor with no farm, appears to be at a serious disadvantage.

Mr Liddel-Grainger was predictably loyal about the Government's handling of the BSE crisis. "I was fairly critical at the time, but I did not see what else we could do to get where we are now."

The local farmers were much less tolerant. Sandy Loud and Ruth Burrow, two beef and dairy farmers, sported T-shirts with the legend "This cow isn't mad, she's bloody livid" on the front and "No more Bull" on the back. Mr Major hugged them. "I have met you before." He certainly had: the two wore their T-shirts to last year's Tory conference.

Mrs Burrow told Mr Major: "Get rid of Hogg and I think the Conservatives can win back the farming vote." John Dawe, local branch chairman of the National Farmers' Union, was also blunt. "I made it clear I would not vote Tory if I had the slightest suspicion that man was going back as Agriculture Minister."

Mr Major made all the right noises. "I do not believe there was ever a justification for the banning of British beef across Europe; there was panic." Britain had honoured its side of the BSE elimination agreement. Now it was time for other European countries to introduce controls as tough as those in Britain. That went down particularly well.

The one way for Mr Major to ensure the votes of the Tavistock farmers would be to say that he intended to appoint Angela Browning, Mr Blobby, Dr Frankenstein or indeed anyone else as Agriculture Minister. After May 1, of course, a Hogg cull may prove unnecessary.

17 Apr 97 - New call for Hogg to go

By Rachel Sylvester, Political Staff

Telegraph ... Wednesday 16 April 1997

Douglas Hogg faced new calls for his resignation after a group of farmers said John Major had signalled that he would sack his agriculture minister if the Tories won the election.

Tory aides denied last night that the Prime Minister had discussed Mr Hogg's future at a campaign visit to farmers in Tavistock, Devon. But farmers who attended the meeting said they had been left with the clear impression that Mr Hogg would step down to restore confidence in the Ministry of Agriculture which has been lost over the beef crisis.

Mr Major told the farmers that he would personally oversee the running of the department after the BSE crisis . A Tory spokesman denied that Mr Major had offered to sack Mr Hogg. He had told farmers he would not comment on individuals.

13 Apr 97 - Beef found in lamb and pork mince

Additional reporting: Mark Macaskill

Sunday Times ... April 13 1997

Lamb and pork mince sold by supermarkets and butchers often contains beef . A nationwide inquiry has found that more than 4 in 10 samples were breaching trade descriptions legislation.

In some cases the lamb mince contained up to 30% beef , which many consumers have given up because of the controversy over BSE in cattle and fears of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, its human equivalent.

Although there is no evidence that any of the contamination was deliberate, most offenders were butchers mincing their own lamb and pork, some of whom even falsely advertised the products as " beef free". A supplier to Safeway and Somerfield is the latest company to be prosecuted.

The findings have provoked anger among consumer groups. "It is vital that people get what they think they are buying and we need vigorous enforcement at every stage in the food chain," said a spokesman for the Consumers' Association.

An investigation into the government's animal health and meat hygiene controls has also revealed that more than a fifth of British abattoirs are failing to meet the minimum standards demanded by Professor Hugh Pennington, whose report into the Scottish E-coli outbreak was published last week.

The investigation by trading standards officers found 43% of the samples tested at butchers and shops in almost 30 local council areas were contaminated . There was no evidence to suggest the beef used was unsafe, but the contamination breached the Trade Descriptions Act.

Last week, Dawn Pac, a Welsh meat-packer and cutting plant which supplies Somerfield with mince and Safeway with poultry products, was fined 1,000 and ordered to pay 700 costs. In separate tests, beef was found in lamb mince in Somerfield branches in Bath and Hounslow, west London.

At Dawn Pac's Dyfed plant, which supplies Somerfield's 600 stores, the same mincing machines were used for different meats. The company said yesterday it had rectified the problem immediately.

Somerfield, which was cautioned for the breach, blamed Dawn Pac's "sloppy procedures" and said dedicated production lines had been installed. Safeway said that no problems had been found with any samples from its stores and that it did not take lamb mince from Dawn Pac.

The revelation that a fifth of British abattoirs are not up to the standard recommended by Pennington threatens to undermine public confidence further . Every licensed slaughterhouse has been awarded a Hygiene Assessment System score by the Meat Hygeine Service.

Low scores are attributable to accepting dirty animals, using unwashed equipment, poor staff hygiene and inadequate drainage . "There clearly has to be a cultural change among slaughterhouse operators and also their staff," said Pennington.

On Friday, the death toll in the E-coli 0157 outbreak in Lanarkshire rose to 19 when an elderly woman died.

Peter Scott, general secretary of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers, said: "There are a number of refuseniks who are not toeing the line. If these abattoirs have not achieved the right standard they should be closed."

Despite the controls, a Sunday Times investigation has discovered that many abuses remain. They include:

* Farmers still falsifying records to disguise the age and origin of animals. Scores of farmers from Northumberland, Ayrshire, Aberdeen, Yorkshire and Devon have been caught making false BSE declarations .

* The "private kill" loophole by which cattle over 30 months should be culled unless sent for a private kill and consumption by farmers. Trading standards officers have reported a huge increase in cattle going to private kill and suspect it is sold into the market.

* Unlicensed cutting plants, which take meat from abattoirs and prepare it for restaurants and smaller shops.