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EU agrees to fund slaughter
of millions of British cattle

mad cow graphic

April 3, 1996
Web posted at: 1 a.m. EST (0600 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) -- In an effort to ease the financial pain caused by the hysteria over "mad cow" disease, the European Union said early Wednesday it has agreed to purchase thousands of tons of meat and fund the mass slaughter of some 5 million British cattle.

The announcement came just before dawn Wednesday, at the conclusion of two days and two nights of meetings. In the end, pressure from EU agriculture ministers pushed the European Commission into supporting plummeting beef prices.


Douglas Hogg

However, the ban on exports of British beef will remain in effect for the immediate future, despite pleas from Agricultural Minister Douglas Hogg that he couldn't return home unless the export halt was lifted. The EU promised to review the ban's status in six weeks.

Under the terms of the agreement, Britain will slaughter 15,000 cattle each week for the next six years for a total of 4.7 million animals, many of them milking cows considered at the most risk for mad cow disease.

The British government will absorb 30 percent of the slaughter's costs to farmers, but the EU agreed to finance the bulk of the cost -- 70 percent, an estimated $400 million a year.

Earlier, the EU's beef management committee agreed that the EU would buy 50,000 tons of European Union beef this month to support the flagging market. The meat purchased by the EU will be held in cold storage until demand rises again.

cows

Demand for action has risen for the past two weeks as the cost of the crisis reaches $15 million a week in lost beef exports. In addition, tens of millions of dollars more are lost in domestic sales and thousands of workers are being laid off.

Although many farmers and politicians say little scientific evidence supports the slaughter of cattle, they support the plan as a way to save the industry.

Meanwhile, beef producers say thousands of healthy cattle are losing value as they put on fat.

"Something's got to happen quickly because these cattle are ready," said Gordon Hogg, a meat wholesaler in Britain. "You just can't hold them off. When they're fit, they start getting fatter."

As the talks continue this week, ministers will not only concern themselves with ways to provide financial support to countries, but also try to come up with a plan to rid the region of the disease altogether.

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