Hong Kong Visitors See The Best of British
EXTRACT FROM YORKSHIRE POST SATURDAY NOVEMBER 1 2008
VISITORS SEE THE BEST OF BRITISH
A WOLDS FARM IS PLAYING A CRUCIAL ROLE IN CONVINCING VISITORS FROM HONG KONG TO OPEN THEIR MARKETS TO BRIITSH BEEF AFTER THE STIGMA OF BSE HIT OUR EXPORTS. CHRIS BERRY REPORTS.
MILLINGTON, in the beautiful rolling countryside of the Yorkshire Wolds, may not be too well-known, but it could just have played a crucial role in the UK exports.
Twelve years ago a worldwide ban on all British Beef as a result of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) raging through our countryside. It is said to have cost
UK agriculture £675m per year and although the European Union lifted its ban two years ago there are still about 100 countries that have not followed suit, including the United States and Australia.
One that has started to make progress is Hong Kong, and last week a delegation of six veterinary surgeons visited John Weatherill’s herd of Millington Grange Limousins, one of Yorkshire’s leading and largest beef herds, as part of their UK tour with a view to further approving UK beef in their country. BSE sparked a revolution in agriculture on these shores, which has seen the most stringent, and some would say unwieldy, regulations adopted of any country in the world.
For a farming fraternity that already felt it led the world in livestock hygiene and husbandry, and had a giant-sized chip on its shoulder that everyone else was not policed in the same way, it came not only as a shock, but also a big blow to their way of life.
While then past 12 years have seen the UK’s beef farmers inching their way back to where their export business once was, there remains a long way to go, as Jean-Pierre Garnier, head of export services with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board explained as the Hong Kong party made their way around John Weatherill’s herd.
Since 2006 the export market has been open in 26 countries within the European Union, but elsewhere there are only a very limited number of countries that are currently allowing imports.
“The key thing for all of them is BSE and how we have dealt with it.”
Dr Shirley Chuk is a senior veterinary officer for the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in Hong Kong and she explained why she and her party were in Millington.
“The reason why we have come over is that the UK has always been keen to export beef to Hong Kong. We are here to look at the UK system, in particular the surveillance and how you deal with SRM (Specified Risk Material) so that we can get a better understanding of the system for our assessment.
“That way we can go back to Hong Kong and decide whether we will approve product to come into our country. Actually the ban has been lifted, but we haven’t sorted out the details on the health certificate as to what stage they can come. In Hong Kong there is still a great deal of concern and from the public point of view that ism very high.”
“So what we aim to do is to take a phased approach, first to allow certain products to come in, and then to open up further as confidence is re-established with the public.”
Jean-Pierre says: “There are 10million people in Hong Kong, all eating a lot of meat, so there is plenty of opportunity for us to export beef products into it. We have a large programme of overseas visits developing in order to open up as many markets as we can. BSE remains a very sensitive subject in the Far East.”
BSE – THE FACTS
Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a relatively new disease of cattle. It was first recognised and defined in the United Kingdom in November 1986. It reached its peak in 1992 when 36,680 cases were confirmed in the UK alone. Since then it has shown a steady decline. Last year only 67 cases were confirmed. BSE occurs in adult animals in both sexes, typically aged five years and more. It is a neurological disease in which affected animals show signs that include: changes in mental state, abnormalities of posture and movement, and of sensation. The clinical disease usually lasts several weeks and is invariably progressive and fatal.
Since its peak in 1992, when 36,680 cases were confirmed in the UK alone, BSE cases have fallen to 67 in 2007. But we are not completely out of the woods just yet.
France, who maintained their ban of British Beef even following the European Union’s reacceptance, had only seven cases last year, and Germany four.
While it may no longer be headline news over here, the impact of what occurred a dozen years ago has left a lasting legacy.
John Weastherill prides himself on a herd which has grown significantly in recent years, picking up trophies at many agricultural shows, but his biggest prize may be in having a part of the current push to see British beef back to its export trade of over a decade ago.
“Here at Millington we do everything we can to ensure that our herd is free of any kind of disease. British beef has always been among the best in the world. I just hope that our small part in the visit of the delegation from Hong Kong goes the same way to opening up the overseas markets further.”
Jean-Pierre is cautiously optimistic about future developments. “I don’t prejudge anything. The key thing is to give all of our prospective countries a good view of British farming and show them a cross-section of the UK beef sector. That’s why we’re here. These kinds of visits take around a year and a half of discussions even to get to this point. I hope they like what they see, and hopefully this will create an opening early in 2009.”