A FORMER government veterinary inspector says imports of European meat should be banned unless their source can be accurately traced.
Henry Reilly, now a UKIP councillor in Newry and Mourne, also criticised European trade rules which mean that such a ban is impossible.
A spokesman for the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, said that there were no safety grounds on which to institute a ban on beef, saying that the EU had even rebuffed efforts to halt British beef imports during the BSE crisis.
Mr Reilly, who worked as a veterinary inspector for the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development for 25 years, said: “There should be a ban on processed meat imports in areas where people aren’t absolutely certain of the source – it should be banned. But we don’t have the power to do it.”
He claimed this was in stark contrast to the treatment of UK beef, which he said had been banned from export during the BSE scare, thanks in large part to French lobbying.
He said: “They will say in this case that it’s different, because there was a possibility of health conditions with BSE, whereas with horse meat they’re saying there’s no health conditions. But how do they know that beef is good if there’s no traceablilty there whatsoever?” When it was put to him that such a ban could have a drastic effect on consumers he said: “It would mean an end to the really cheap beef burgers. It would mean an increase in the amount you pay for normal good beef. There’s no doubt about that. The price of beef will go up as a consequence of this.”
Mr Reilly, whose job had entailed visiting abattoirs and assessing cattle, added that one consequence of not having so much cheap meat “suppressing” the local food market would be that Ulster farmers could afford to increase their own production of quality assured meat.
Asked whether there was indeed scope for such a ban, Frederic Vincent, spokesman for health and consumer issues in the European Commission, said: “Of course not!
“A member state can’t put a ban on the import of food from another member state if there are no safety reasons – urgent ones. There is no safety issue at this stage ... the answer is ‘no’.”
Both the UK and Republic are part of the EU’s “internal market”, he said, and in any case a ban would have to be discussed at EU level before it went ahead.
Asked about Mr Reilly’s remarks on a ban on imports of British beef during the BSE scare, he branded it “a myth” and said: “It failed. We told France they were not allowed to do so.”
Mr Reilly told the News Letter that France had “defied” the EU on the matter anyway, and that such a ban was still kept in place for years.
The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, representing a string of supermarket chains across the Province, also had Mr Reilly’s points put to it.
Spokesman Aodhan Connolly said: “As responsible retailers, our members take seriously the concerns of all consumers including Mr Reilly, and (that is) why we as an industry have been quick to respond to the concerns of government and the public and will continue to be transparent and provide clarity in our response.”