Farmer-butchers selling top-quality beef direct to consumers are being undermined by new regulations requiring the removal of vertebral column from over-24 month carcasses.

The 24-month rule was introduced last week as one of the conditions of lifting the beef export ban, harmonising the UK with the rest of the EU.

A derogation was introduced to allow small butchers to do the de-boning, rather than relying on licensed cutting plants.

But there appears to be considerable confusion as to what is allowed.

One farmer to fall foul of this is Andrew Crewdson who farms 1400ha (3500 acres) to the north of Newcastle.

The first he knew about the rule change was when he sent one of his over-24-month cattle to the abattoir last Wednesday (3 May), and it came back the next day de-boned in boxes, rather than the usual quarters.

“Boxed beef is hopeless for us,” he told Farmers Weekly.

“Our business is based on hanging beef for 21 days and then cutting it to customer requirement.

We can’t do that with boxed beef.”

Mr Crewdson contacted the abattoir and was told they could not release the beef unless it was de-boned.

“I then spoke to the environmental health officer who knew nothing about it, and then to the MHS vet, who said I had to get a licence.

“Finally I spoke to the EHO in Morpeth who told me they had received an information pack the previous week, but had not had time to issue advice to their staff on the ground.”

The Food Standards Agency said it sent information packs to local authorities in early April.

But these do not seem to have got through to local authority staff, who still question who should take the lead in the new arrangements.

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk