Next steps taken to push progress on carcase splitting rules

Following a cross-industry meeting in February, and numerous meetings with Defra and Food Standards Agency (FSA) staff in the months since, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and National Sheep Association (NSA) have reached the point of being able to formally ask the Farming Minister for a change to carcase splitting rules for sheep.

Numerous organisations from across the UK have come in behind the request to change the rules, including bodies representing farmers, auctioneers and abattoirs. All have agreed that moving away from a ‘mouthing’ system to a calendar-system for determining when to split carcases would bring benefits for the whole supply chain, domestic and export markets. Instead of checking lambs for the eruption of their first set of permanent incisors, the proposed new system would see a simple cut-off date of 30th June each year. All lambs sent to slaughter before this date would be deemed to be under 12 months of age and, therefore, not required to have their carcase split.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “Despite there being no evidence of BSE crossing species from cattle to sheep in field conditions, nor evidence that scrapie poses any risk to human health, TSE regulations were brought in as a ‘precautionary measure’ and any change, however minor is met with resistance from Europe. While our two organisations will continue to fight for wider-scale reform at a European level, we feel more immediate gains can be made with the proposed change to a calendar-system. Following an unprecedented level of industry consultation and detailed discussions with Defra and FSA officials, NFU and NSA have confirmed this change could be made at a UK level, not EU, so we have formally requested George Eustice, Defra Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, to go ahead with this alternative implementation of the TSE regulations.”

NSA and NFU argue the change to a date-based system would not necessarily see a massive reduction in the number of carcases being split, although likely to lead to fewer older unsplit lambs entering the food chain, but would remove a great deal of uncertainty in the supply chain, as well as save money from not having to check for teeth in markets and abattoirs. It would also rid the UK sector of a barrier to more exports.

Charles Sercombe, NFU Livestock Board Chairman, explains: “We have congratulated Mr Eustice on his Great British Food unit and feel this proposed change on TSEs sits perfectly with its aims. With a drive to grow our industry through more exports, removing the uncertainty around levels of supply of unsplit carcases would be a very positive thing, particularly with our largest lamb market, France, for whom an unsplit carcase is ordinarily essential. In discussion with French importers, we have heard that such a move would be favourable to our exports. We believe this will also pay dividends when it comes to extending our red meat exports beyond the EU.”

NSA and NFU will continue to develop thinking and understanding about this subject as Mr Eustice consults with Defra and FSA on the best way forward.

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