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Ulster gets FMD-free status, but confusion remains

Ministers briefed today on the crisis

By Linda McKee

Northern Ireland will be able to distance itself from the rest of Britain with new export documentation detailing its foot-and-mouth free status.

The move will help retain valuable export markets in Europe in the wake of the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Surrey, but Northern Ireland exporters warned this morning that confusion among non-EU countries is causing the greatest headache.

A high-level veterinary meeting in Brussels last night rubber-stamped the decision to exempt the province from the export restriction imposed on England, Scotland and Wales after the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

The European Commission has also confirmed that Northern Ireland can differentiate itself from Britain in its export documentation.

Meanwhile, government department Defra has agreed to help sort out Northern Ireland's export confusion by contacting Chief Veterinary Officers in all European member states to spell out the province's special status.

Meat and dairy shipments worth millions have been put at risk because a number of countries worldwide are refusing to recognise Northern Ireland's distinct status.

Stomont ministers are to be briefed today on the latest efforts to make sure exports reach international customers. The meeting, led by the First and Deputy Ministers and Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew, is designed to make sure that ministers are "up to speed" on what has been done to keep foot-and-mouth out of Ulster, a Stormont official said.

"They are also being informed as to what is being done to ensure that we do not lose vital export markets. The message coming out of this today is that this process is continuing, nobody is panicking and we are all making sure that everybody is across this issue," he said.

But Grampian Country Food Ltd said that it is in limbo as shipments en route to Japan and the US remain in doubt.

"We are happy that this is progressing but it needs to go ahead at a quick rate of knots," said the Ulster firm's chief executive Hugh McReynolds.

"We have produce in ports or on the way to ports where the Japanese authorities and the US authorities need clear clarification that the UK health certificates aren't all the same.

"We need the veterinary authorities to be clear about the fact that Northern Ireland is separate and all the importing countries know it's not a UK ban, that Northern Ireland is separate from that."

He welcomed the EU moves but warned that non-EU countries are more of a problem for Grampian.

"We are still in limbo with all exports and we're still concerned about material which is in ports or on the way to ports," he said.

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