In the 1980s and 1990s thousands of cattle in the UK were infected with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) with some 180 people dying from the human form. This led to a ban on feeding animal remains to cattle.
But now the European Parliament and Council are discussing lifting the ban, with considerations due to conclude in August.
Ulster Farmers’ Union President Victor Chestnutt said the news came as a surprise.
“We weren’t expecting this after the UK suffered from such draconian measures from the EU when the UK had BSE,” he said.
The EU led the world in isolating British beef, as the disease was particularly prevalent in the UK, he noted.
“If they do relax the rules, the key questions are whether NI is allowed to feed such remains to livestock - and whether farmers and customers would want us to do it? Unless Britain follows suit this is another divergence for Northern Ireland away from GB.”
UUP Chief Whip Robbie Butler called for clarity from the UK Government as a matter of urgency.
“I am extremely concerned at the prospect of using dead animal protein to feed table-bound animal produce,” he said. “The impact of BSE - ‘Mad Cow Disease’ - on farms and butcher shops in the 1990s still remains as a very stark reminder as to why this practice shouldn’t be allowed here in Northern Ireland.”
He added: “Any suggestion that our agriculture or food standards could be inferior to the rest of the UK would have a devastating impact on our sales to Great Britain.”
A European Commission spokesman told the News Letter that the safety of animal feed is of high importance, and as such, the proposal is based on “the robust scientific opinion from the European Food Safety Authority”.
“The Commission confirms that the Member States have endorsed a proposal to allow the reintroduction of non-ruminant processed animal proteins (PAP) for poultry and pigs and also of those from insects.”
He said they were only considering the use of animal protein derived exclusively from “low risk material from healthy animals fit for human consumption”.
He added that this would only apply to pig and poultry feed and that the prohibition of animals being fed with proteins from its own species remains in place.
He added: “It is important to clarify that Northern Irish farmers will not be forced to change their current feeding practices. They can choose to stick to the current feeding practices if they wish to do so.”
The Department of Agriculture said: “The draft measure is currently subject to scrutiny before the European Parliament and Council of the EU. If adopted by the EU, it will automatically apply to Northern Ireland as a consequence of the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland. Officials are monitoring the progress of the draft measure and considering the implications if it were to be adopted by the EU.”
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