Monday, April 22, 2019

Fury as Defra abandons changes to carcase splitting rules

April 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

A government decision to abandon changes to carcase splitting rules for lambs born from 2018 onwards is likely to cost the sheep sector £24m, say farm leaders.

Defra has confirmed that plans to use a fixed cut-off date of 30 June to age lambs instead of checking teeth – a practice known as dentition – have been delayed due to Brexit uncertainty. The change was due to be implemented this year.

Civil servants informed industry leaders of the decision at a Defra meeting on 4 March. They said government ministers were worried that pushing ahead with the change could make it difficult for the UK to gain an EU third country listing in the event of a no-deal Brexit or delay to talks.

Current Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy rules require spinal cord to be removed from animals slaughtered when they are more than 12 months old – a practice that reduces carcase values by as much as 40%.

Age is usually determined by checking each sheep to see if it has permanent incisors. But that system was due to be replaced by the fixed cut-off date – a change signed off at a UK and EU level and due to be implemented as soon as the Food Standards Agency was ready.

Risk assessment

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said: “We were told a risk assessment had been done, everything had been cleared and, as the weeks progressed, we were being led to believe all we were waiting for was FSA to agree implementation procedures.”

The apparent u-turn came just days after the resignation of Defra minister George Eustice, who quit the government after Prime Minister Theresa May said she would allow a House of Commons vote on whether to delay Brexit beyond 29 March.

Mr Stocker said: “Anyone still thinking that departure from the EU will result in freeing agriculture from nonsensical rules and regulations should think again. We have been told now that formal legislative change is needed, and this will require a consultation.”

Some people had made business decisions based on expectations that the rules would change this spring, added Mr Stocker. The NSA would continue to push the issue and try to ensure it remained at the top of Defra’s agenda, he said.

Completely unacceptable

“I’d like to apologise if we have become tangled up with giving what have become incorrect messages to industry. All I can say is that we were acting in good faith and working to keep industry informed.”

NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay said he too had received assurances the rules were due to change. He added: “It is unacceptable that this has now been completely overturned with no indication of when it will be implemented.”

Changing the way lambs were aged from dentition to a cut-off date would improve accuracy and ensure farmers were fairly paid for the value of their product. “The delay in implementation is a huge setback for the UK sheep sector,” said Mr Findlay.

“Defra’s failure to follow through on its commitment is extremely frustrating. The decision also continues to load costs on to the industry as it spends an estimated £24m a year on dentition checks, which would be unnecessary if a cut-off date were used.”

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