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EU reprieve for Cyprus breeders

By Menelaos Hadjicostis

A new EU regulation could save the island’s sheep and goat breeders from certain ruin by imposing a five-year moratorium on a EU court-mandated cull of up to a quarter of the island’s herds infected with scrapie.

The brainchild of Cypriot EU Health Commissioner Marcos Kyprianou, the regulation would have immediate effect once it gets the all-clear from EU health experts, despite formal Commission approval that could come as late as December.

Kyprianou’s press officer Haravgi-Nina Papadoulaki confirmed a Phileleftheros report that the regulation is now being drafted and that President Tassos Papadopoulos has already been brought up to speed.

"We confirm the information in the article," Papadoulaki said in an e-mail message.

The regulation complies with EU food safety rules recognising that not all sheep and goats in herds where scrapie has been identified may be infected with the fatal brain disease.

Kyprianou is expected to brief Agriculture Minister Photis Photiou on the regulation in Brussels later today.

A five-year postponement would give Cypriot authorities time to weed out scrapie-infected goats and sheep from local herds and replace them with disease-resistant animals.

The news comes as a relief to breeders who warned that as many as 3,000 families would go broke if their livelihood is literally sent for slaughter.

Some had also spoke of a serious blow to the economy that could prompt sky-rocketing meat and dairy prices and could cripple halloumi production.

Mini-crisis

Photiou said if worse comes to worse, the government would be forced to fork out £55 in compensation for each of an estimated 116,000 sheep and goats that would have to be destroyed.

That means a compensation package of as much as £30m.

A legal challenge of the EU First Instance Court decision that triggered the mini-crisis is already being prepared.

Photiou said he’s confident the EU Court won’t force Cyprus to follow through with the cull as long as an appeal of the decision is being readied.

Nevertheless, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Yiannakis Thoma said the House expects the government to come up with a compensation package for breeders in case the cull goes ahead.

He said immediate aid of £850-900,000 isn’t enough for breeders who "rightly demand" a package of £4-5m.

Thoma said the government earns £100m from goat and sheep breeders.

Papadopoulos has pledged financial aid in case a worst-case scenario materialises.

However, government, breeders and experts agree on is that there is no real health risk if meat or dairy products from scrapie-infected animals is consumed.

Scrapie belongs to a family of fatal diseases of the brain known as Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) that include mad cow disease.

The crisis broke after a EU First Instance Court last month ruled in favour of a French appeal against a directive forestalling the slaughter of scrapie-infected herds.

That meant Cyprus authorities would have to slaughter a quarter of a total sheep and goat population of 430,000 animals.

The ruling also affects countries including Italy, Spain, the UK, Ireland and Greece, but nowhere near to the degree that Cyprus would be impacted given its high proportion of goat and sheep farms.

Officials also underscored the spectre of having to dispose "hundreds of thousands of tonnes" of animal carcasses the cull would generate.

The problem would become acute given that the island’s peak solid waste disposal capacity is a mere 400 tonnes a day.

|||EU reprieve for Cyprus breeders
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