Summary: The EU's fifteen Ministers of Agriculture managed to wrap up a number of outstanding issues, such as the ban on the use of four antibiotics used in animal feed and the agri-monetary arrangements proposed by the European Commission to deal with the effects of the introduction of the Euro on January 1, 1999, but the Council is still lagging behind on some of the most important issues, such as the Agenda 2000 package of reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy, for which the Ministers only decided to set up a high-level group, although they did discuss the reform of the wine sector quite thoroughly. With regard to Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, the Council and the Commission agreed to postpone the date of entry into force of the controversial July 1997 Regulation banning specified risk materials thought to carry the deadly BSE agent until December 31, 1999.

Majority backing for ban on antibiotics in feed. The European Commission's proposal for a Council Regulation to ban the use of four antibiotics used in animal feed as growth promoters and for preventive medical purposes reached a qualified majority of votes at the Farm Council on December 14. The Council fully backed the Commission in its initiative to ban virginiamycin, spiramycin, tylosin phosphate and bacitracin zinc and indeed only three countries abstained (Spain, Portugal and Belgium), whereas all other delegations voted in favour. British Farm Minister, Nick Brown, said that "in questions of this kind, of course the decisions have to be taken on the basis of scientific evidence but where there is doubt or it is contestable, the health of the public must be put first". Now that the Regulation proposal has been approved (it will be formally adopted after the text has been juridically verified in a future Council) the use in animal feed of the four antibiotics in question will be gradually phased out, in the Member States where there has been no ban on these products up until now, to enable the industry and the farmers to adjust as well as for animal welfare purposes, and the ban will be effective for these countries as from June 30, 1999. For the Member States where bans on these antibiotics are already in place, such as Sweden which prohibits all eight antibiotics used in animal feed, this ban will be effective as from January 1, 1999. The Ministers were at pains to stress that this ban must be seen as a precautionary measure and that it can be reviewed in the...

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