The short-term prospects for British red meat may be brightening with the return of over-30-month beef to the food chain, but there is a 20m sting in the tail from the now defunct OTMS scheme, according to the Meat and Livestock Commission.

At the MLC’s Outlook 2006 conference this week, economist Duncan Sinclair told delegates that as many as 80,000 of the 535,000 cows heading for the food chain this year could be disqualified because of stricter hygiene rules.

“Since the beginning of the year, animals that are diseased rather than genuine emergency slaughter cases cannot enter the food chain.”

Mr Sinclair estimated that up to 1500 animals a week were being sidelined into the fallen stock scheme and realising no value.

But at least farmers were spared the cost of disposing of cows over 24 months of age, he added.

“Bovine animals that die of disease on the farm will be taken away by the government free-of-charge and routinely tested for TSEs.”

Despite that, he predicted 110,000t of cow beef would come to market this year, displacing some manufacturing-grade imports.

And it was crucial that farmers prepare animals properly before marketing them, he said.

“Retailers will want regular supplies of cow beef before they switch to using it.

That means dairy cows must be dried off, fed and then sold on.

It’s no good milking them in the morning then putting them straight on the wagon.”

He urged farmers to consider all the options for finishing dairy cows, including selling them on to a specialist finisher.

sam.fortescue@rbi.co.uk