Brussels minces to a strange tune

TRADIONALLY prepared minced beef could be forced off British plates following yet more regulation from the European Commission. The ruling, which aims to ban the processing of beef mince six days after slaughter, could also leave consumers facing higher prices.

Robert Sturdy MEP

TRADIONALLY prepared minced beef could be forced off British plates following yet more regulation from the European Commission. The ruling, which aims to ban the processing of beef mince six days after slaughter, could also leave consumers facing higher prices.

At the moment British meat hangs for 14 to 28 days before being processed, unlike on the continent, where raw mince dishes such as steak tartare are popular. Since British mince already meets strict hygiene standards, British consumers should have the right to choose their preferred mince, rather than being restricted by such short-sighted legislation.

The Commission has been keen to point out that the ruling does not apply to butchers' shops or retail stores. The point is though, that in Britain, the majority of mince is not prepared in these premises as is the norm in countries like France. British beef mince is normally prepared in abattoirs or cutting plants and is then packed for retail distribution. After the disastrous effects of Foot and Mouth restrictions last year, the last thing abattoir businesses up and down the country want is to be wrapped in more red tape

As any butcher will tell you, the quality and taste of meat has as much do with how long it is hung as well as the condition of the animal from which it came. British mince already has to meet certain microbiological criteria set by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

There is absolutely no need to introduce further, unfounded regulation. The time scale for meat preparation was originally set under the Minced Meat Directive of 1994, which the UK successfully had adapted to suit its traditional methods of hanging meat. These EU rules then became defunct during the export ban on British beef from 1996 to 1999.

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The problem now is that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has failed to negotiate a similar derogation with the Commission this time around. It is imperative that this ruling is made more flexible to suit the British palate as well as to save the British meat sector from paying unwarranted and excessive costs. Britain prides itself on the high quality meat it produces and British mince must stay on the counters, both here and overseas. We must send a clear and strong message to the Commission to stop interfering where it is not necessary.

Safeguarding not only British procedures, but also British livestock is a major concern. The flooding of the Eastern region would eat away at the precious agricultural land of East Anglia and would most likely lead to large-scale abandonment. Along with the loss of land the habitat of many thousands of cows would be destroyed.

THERE have been many reports in the last month about the threat of coastal flooding to the region. Conservationists have suggested that we should surrender 25 square miles of Norfolk to the sea, whilst the Wash remains a threat to Fenland communities.

In Suffolk, campaigners have rightly spoken out against the Environment Agency's hesitancy over whether to maintain sea defences in the Blyth estuary. I do not believe that the fate of so many towns, villages and agricultural land can be left in the hands of Mother Nature. It is imperative that every last penny of available funding from the EU is applied for. It is taxpayers' money and this is one area where it must most definitely be used.

Robert Sturdy is a Conservative Euro MP for the East of England

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