AFTER a three-day meeting, European farm ministers yesterday agreed to a strategy to begin to restore confidence in Europe's beef industry.
These measures include: a decision to maintain an embargo on British beef and a commitment from Britain to destroy all cattle more than 30 months of age over the next five years. In addition, the European Union (EU) agreed to pick up 70 percent of the costs of the selective slaughter, expected to be about $402 million.
The agreement comes at the start of a long-anticipated conference of the 15 EU members to revise terms of their political and economic union. The "mad-cow scare" marked a serious test of Europe's ability to resolve problems in common.
Since a British government report raised the possibility that BSE, or mad-cow disease, could be transmitted to humans, more than 8,000 people have lost their jobs in the British beef industry, and the market for beef has dropped some 50 percent in Europe.
EU officials warn that further measures may be needed to restore public confidence."Given what could be a further deterioration of the situation, we must be prepared for others," says French Agriculture Minister Philippe Vasseur.
By the terms of yesterday's agreement, Britain must present to the European Commission by April 30 a plan for sanitizing its herd, including measures to ensure that cattle exposed to contaminated feed will be eliminated.
London had urged an immediate end to Europe's ban on British beef as well as agreement from the EU to pick up 80 percent of the cost of a selective slaughter.
Last week, British Prime Minister John Major charged that European partners had overreacted to public fears, "turning a very, very difficult problem into a crisis."
The EU will pay for much of Britain's costs in slaughtering cows, but won't name a date to end its embargo.