The government is to lift the Over Thirty Months rule and replace it with a system of testing older cattle for BSE.
The move, predicted in last week’s issue of The Grocer (p54), will result in BSE-free cattle born on or after August 1 1996 entering the food chain next year for the first time since OTMS was introduced almost nine years ago.
Defra said the Food Standards Agency had advised ministers that the current control measures were no longer proportionate to the risk.
Secretary of state Margaret Beckett said: “The final switch-over will not happen until the FSA has advised that the testing system is robust.
“We will also be working in
Brussels to ensure that beef from UK cattle born on or after 1 August 1996 can be exported as soon as possible after it becomes eligible for sale in the UK.”
Any changes in the OTM rule are unlikely to come into effect until the latter half of 2005 with changes in export restrictions not expected until later in the same year.
The lifting of OTMS should also boost the UK’s red meat self sufficiency levels, estimated to be around 60% at the moment. Industry sources said this figure could rise to 80% once older cattle were permitted in the food chain again.
Farmers’ organisations welcomed the move.
The National Beef Association said it was the “first big step in an unravelling process that will allow UK beef to cast aside the BSE chains that have bound it since March 1996”.
National Farmers’ Union president Tim Bennett said: “This is positive news for the beef industry and we are confident that there is a market place for this product.”
Quality Meat Scotland said exporting beef again would be worth £150m a year to the Scottish economy.
Richard Clarke