MORE than 30 representatives from the sheep sector and UK governments met last month to discuss and agree an industry proposal to rid lamb producers of a cumbersome and financially draining regulation.
The industry has been pushing for reform of the EU rules on TSEs and carcase splitting and, while undoing layers of red tape laid down by Europe is a slow process, it believes more immediate gains can be made by changing the UK implementation of the rules.
Current European regulation on TSEs requires spinal cord to be removed from sheep of more than 12 months of age or which have one permanent incisor erupted through the gum. UK domestic regulation, which is an interpretation of the larger EU ruling, requires carcases to be split for the removal of spinal cord and currently uses the mouthing of sheep as the mechanism to determine which carcases need to be split.
Mouthing of sheep to determine age was the best option when the TSE rules first came in, but since then sheep identification systems have moved on considerably.
National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker (pictured above) said: “Sheep identification rules for the whole of the UK state that lambs are deemed to be 12 months old from June 30 each calendar year.
“It is impossible to record individual birth dates for all lambs born, so this calendar date provides a clear cut-off that farmers can work to and which the EU has accepted as suitable for the UK situation. “Using this same calendar date for deciding when carcases are split will remove a great deal of confusion from the food chain.”
NSA believes changing to a calendar date will not necessarily reduce the number of carcases being split, but will provide some much needed clarity for everyone involved and remove the cost of mouthing sheep.
During the meeting the FUW, Hybu Cig Cymru, Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland, Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, British Meat Processors Association, Eblex, Livestock Auctioneers Association, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Sheep Veterinary Society and Ulster Farmers Union joined NFU and NSA in supporting the proposal.
Officials in Defra, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and DARD in Northern Ireland, as well as the Food Standards Agency in all four nations, also welcomed the sheep industry’s initiative aimed at bringing greater certainty to the determination of an animal’s age for purposes of spinal cord removal.
Mr Stocker added: “We still have a long way to go with this, and over the coming months we will be working hard, with help from FSA, to develop an approach which UK Ministers can support for implementing a new system that benefits the whole food chain.”