A new grading system for cull cows is under discussion as cow-beef trading gathers pace.

But auctioneers and meat buyers fear the ending of the over-30-month scheme next month could disrupt trade for farmers selling into this sector of the beef market.

The English Beef and Lamb Executive says producers still need to adjust to the new market for cow beef.

It has confirmed that discussions are under way with auctioneers and the meat trade to introduce a grading structure similar to the one that operated before BSE.

Clive Brown, western regional manager for EBLEX, told farmers at a meeting in Lancs last week that the reintroduction of a 1-4 grade system for cow trading was on the cards.

“It will give farmers and buyers an effective marketing structure,” he said.

Jonathan Birnie of Dungannon Meats Group in Northern Ireland also addressed the Lancs meeting and told farmers he hoped the first exports of cow beef could be heading for Italy or France by March.

“But farmers must make sure they know what this market wants. It is not a dumping ground for poor, thin cows.

“Well-fleshed cattle classifying at 3-4L will be wanted as confidence grows abroad, but we must not let it be weakened by trying to offload rubbish. Farmers must recognise that to make the export trade work.”