The Farmers' Union of Wales today stressed that its campaign against Brazilian beef imports is totally justified following the European Ombudsman's strong criticism of the European Commission's delay in banning such imports in 2008 in a bid to deal with risks from foot and mouth disease.

The FUW joined forces with the Fairness for Farmers in Europe action group of British and Irish farming organisations in July 2007 to lodge a formal complaint to the European Ombudsman that the Commission should have imposed a complete import ban on Brazilian beef because of potential animal health threats.

Foot and mouth disease is a highly contagious viral disease affecting certain animals, in particular, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and deer. Different zones in Brazil have different foot and mouth disease statuses and the World Organisation for Animal Health considers that only one State in Brazil is foot and mouth disease-free without vaccination.

Certain zones in Brazil are "foot and mouth disease-free with vaccination". All other zones in Brazil are "not foot and mouth disease-free". The EU is currently recognised by the World Organisation for Animal Health as being "foot and mouth disease-free without vaccination".

FUW's deputy president Emyr Jones said that during the Ombudsman's investigation the Commission agreed that serious deficiencies in the Brazilian beef control system had indeed been identified and although it imposed import restrictions it rejected an outright ban.

Those restrictions still left 412 Brazilian cattle farms eligible to export to the EU, compared to around 10,000 previously.

"We felt the restrictions were not strong enough because, following a fact-finding mission to Brazil in November 2007, the EU's own Food and Veterinary Office identified 'serious' deficiencies in the Brazilian system of sanitary controls," said Mr Jones.

The Ombudsman pointed out that the Commission did not immediately impose special conditions on all imports of beef from Brazil once it had analysed the report of the November 2007 mission.

Rather, it allowed consignments of meat, for which veterinary certificates were issued prior to 31 January 2008 and which were "en route" to the EU at that date, to be imported into the EU until 15 March 2008.

"The Commission failed to justify adequately why it permitted, between 1 February 2008 and 15 March 2008, imports of consignments of beef from Brazil into the EU," the Ombudsman added. He also noted that the Commission's decision states that the purpose of the exception was to "avoid disruption of trade".

Mr Jones said: "We believe the Commission should have taken more stringent measures to prevent Brazilian beef from entering the EU and we welcome the Ombudsman's criticism of the Commission for allowing Brazilian beef imports into the EU from 10,000 unapproved farms between February and March 2008.

"The Ombudsman has also demanded that the Commission continues regular inspections outside the EU to ensure necessary standards of animal and public health are respected before food is imported into the EU. His ruling vindicates our decision to make this complaint."

The Ombudsman stated that the Commission should continue to conduct regular missions to third countries for the purposes of carrying out systematic checks to ensure that such countries not only propose, but also adopt and keep in place adequate phytosanitary controls.

"Adequate phytosanitary controls should provide at least an equivalent level of protection as is provided within the EU," the Ombudsman added.

Mr Jones said: "We believe the Ombudsman has delivered a clear signal to the Commission that any continuing or future failure to impose such import restrictions would mean that the Commission would be guilty of maladministration."

Meanwhile, the FUW maintains its 'Buy The Welsh One' campaign is more relevant than ever and it is pleased that Hybu Cig Cymru - Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) is supporting the union's presence on the National Eisteddfod Maes at Ebbw Vale this week.

Eisteddfodwyr can find Welsh Beef and Welsh Lamb, cheeses, fruit, vegetables and cider - all produced locally - on the union's stand where they can also pick up a copy of HCC's popular book for children Cool2Cook2 featuring recipes for meaty tomato pasta; sticky carrot and orange muffins; Welsh Lamb stir fry; Welsh Lamb patties; beefy chip-topped pie; stir-fry fruit; spicy Welsh Lamb koftas; and sweet and sour pork.

Also featured on the stand is the Community Food Co-operative Programme in Wales which supports the Welsh Assembly Government's local sourcing action plan and encourages the reduction of food miles and more sustainable practices.

It supports local growing and purchasing of fruit and vegetables where possible and creates greater links between urban and rural areas. A pilot scheme for Welsh meat and fish is also being worked on.

"The programme has gone from strength to strength, with over 270 community food co-operatives running to date, over 80 of which are in schools, providing fruit and vegetables to approximately 6,500 families and engaging around 1,500 volunteers," said the programme's Welsh produce manager Mark Jones.

The programme sells around 11,000 bags of fruit and vegetables per week at £2.50 and £3 a bag - an average of 60 bags per food co-op. An average bag of fruit, vegetables or salad can feed a family of four people.

Currently nine growers, 32 retailers, 22 wholesalers and one social enterprise supply the food co-operatives. The retailers and wholesalers are selected on the basis that they provide as much local produce as possible. One of the growers supplies more than 50 of the co-operatives in North Wales.