By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Purchase of Cattle for Destruction Scheme being set up in response to the European mad cow crisis will begin on Jan. 8, Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh has announced.
Animals over 30 months old that have not undergone a test for bovine spongiform encephalopathy can be acquired by the department under the plan. All cattle over 30 months destined for human consumption must be tested for BSE.
To qualify for the program, cattle are required to have been present in the State for at least six months and have been passed fit for slaughter for human consumption.
The worsening cattle crisis is expected to have a major impact on the public finances next year.
The EU will meet approximately 70 percent of the purchasing costs for the destruction scheme and the remaining 30 percent will come from the treasury.
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The billion pounds a year export trade is being hit by the closure of world markets to EU beef, a severe drop in consumer confidence within the community and a resultant fall-off in consumption of beef.
A continuing ban by Egypt — Ireland’s largest export market taking about 150,000 tons of beef a year worth £200 million — is a major blow to the 100,000 farmers involved in beef production.
There are no exact costings for implementing various new EU measures but they are expected to involve spending hundreds of millions of pounds. They will have a disproportionate effect on Ireland because of the importance of the cattle trade to the economy.
About 1.5 million cattle are slaughtered every year, with nine of every 10 carcasses exported.
The new measures come into force after a record year for Irish cases of mad cow disease.
There were 20 cases of BSE diagnosed during December, bringing the total for the year to 149. This was more than 50 percent up on last year’s total of 95.
The December total was the second-highest monthly figure. The highest was November when 25 cases were diagnosed.
The minister described the task of implementing the EU measures "gigantic."
The country will have to store huge amounts of meat and bone meal as it can no longer be sold or exported.
It is estimated that a "mountain" of up to 100,000 tons of meat and bone meal will have to be stored while an Irish incinerator is established. It will handle not only the meat and bone meal but also carcasses of animals failing a BSE test as these are no longer being buried on farms around the country.
Walsh said every effort was being made at political, technical and diplomatic level to try and have restrictions placed on EU beef lifted.