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Beef Industry

Volume 170: debated on Thursday 19 April 1990

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To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the present state of the beef industry.

The beef breeding herd is at its highest level for a decade. Last year there was a rise of 9 per cent. over 1988.

Under European Community rules, the Government could pay up to £71·37 per cow in hill livestock compensatory allowance. At the moment they are paying merely £54·50. Why will not the Government support hill farmers to the hilt when their incomes are depressed largely as a result of Government policy?

The Government support hill livestock producers very substantially. We recently increased the hill livestock compensatory allowance for sheep producers and we judged that that was the best place to put a limited resource. The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that last year we increased the suckler cow premium by 42 per cent. and extended it to smaller farmers. That particularly affects beet producers, 60 per cent. of whom are in less-favoured areas. We direct £50 million a year in HLCAs to beef producers in the uplands. So we have nothing to apologise for in our support of the beef industry.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the increase in the suckler cow subsidy does much to improve confidence in the beef industry? As rearing hill calves is a long-term project, will he give as early warning as possible about the future of the HLCAs for next year so that farmers can plan with confidence?

I take heed of my hon. Friend's comments. The fact that we have to negotiate in Brussels means that sometimes we cannot give as much warning as we should like because negotiations are delayed. It is certainly true that we have at heart the welfare of those beef producers.

As the issue dominating the beef industry is mad cow disease, why do the Government refuse to implement the recommendation of their own Tyrrell working party and undertake a random sample of dead cows at slaughterhouses to ascertain the extent of mad cow disease in the British herd?

The reason is that the measures that we have taken are more effective. We maintain extremely effective controls, and many of our actions have gone beyond the recommendations of our scientific advisers. We believe that the precautionary approach is right. We have done everything possible to safeguard public health and have gone beyond many of the recommendations made in that respect.