Producers and processors frustrated by loss of cheap high quality beef from trade Phasing out of OTMS set for delay by feed débâcle Scarcity of cheap cow beef for meat product manufacturing has long caused resentment in some corners of the British industry, but the issue is attracting more official interest in London and Brursels following the latest BSE scare. The new controversy, sparked by claims that imports of contaminated livestock feed may be preventing complete elimination of the disease from the cattle herd in Britain, is not regarded as likely to turn into another major health scare. However gossip in the trade and among DEFRA and MLC staff suggests one effect will be further delay in phasing out the Over Thirty Month Scheme, a culling programme introduced in 1996 to remove from the food chain older cattle thought to be BSE risks. OTMS slaughterings were interrupted by foot and mouth, but are now getting back up to speed. By mid February the weekly cull had reached nearly 15,000, almost matching the slaughter tally of heifers for the meat market. Loudest protests against the scheme have tended to come from producer and processor lobbyists objecting to its effect of exacerbating the shortage of high quality clean beef. OTMS causes a huge loss of manufacturing beef, probably draining at least a quarter of a million tonnes from the British industry in a year. Before 1996 much of this would have been exported, particularly to France. In other words the OTMS became a surreptitious market and trade stabilisation measure, in practice restricting supply in the face of wobbly demand by more than the politically embarrassing intervention system officially intended for this task. The need for it has increased again the past 18 months because the BSE scare that began on the continent in late 2000 triggered a surge of cow beef into the EU market, much of it from Germany, and this is still putting pressure on prices. {{MEAT }}