Over-thirty-month beef will return to the human food chain from today (7 November) for the first time in almost 10 years.

Farmer organisations have described the development as a “massive step forward” towards the normalisation of trade.

But doubts remain about how many abattoirs will actually be willing to perform BSE brain tests and start commercial slaughtering again.

As Farmers Weekly went to press last Wednesday (2 Nov) the Meat Hygiene Service confirmed that just three abattoirs had completed their two-day BSE testing trial and gained the necessary approval, while another 12-15 were still being assessed.

“It is possible that we could have 15-20 abattoirs approved to accept older cattle by the end of the first week,” said an MHS spokesman.

The Meat and Livestock Commission is anticipating that there could be 80,000 older beasts destined for the human food chain in the next two months, adding 23,000t to the UK beef supply.

“We are reasonably confident that there will be sufficient slaughter capacity to deal with them,” said MLC head of policy Stephen Rossides.

National Beef Association chairman Duff Burrell agreed that capacity was not the major issue.

But the logistics of finding out which abattoirs were prepared to handle OTM cattle was a real problem.

Not all abattoirs approved to process older beef for the food chain would choose to do so, and if a producer sent cattle to a factory that was only doing OTMS, he would only get the OTMS price for them.

“No farmer should send any OTM cattle to an abattoir unless they are completely sure the abattoir is killing cows when they arrive,” warned the NBA.

NFU livestock board chairman Richard Haddock said his greatest concern was what will happen if the OTMS is removed and the export market is still closed.

DEFRA’s original plan was to end OTMS at the same time as the Older Cattle Destruction Scheme kicks in.

That scheme still has to be approved in Brussels, but is expected to be up and running in mid-January.

The working assumption is that the Date Based Export Scheme will not be removed until mid-February, resulting in a month’s gap from the ending of the OTMS.

Without the OTMS and without exports, beef prices would be in danger of collapsing.

Farmer organisations are therefore pressing for an extension.

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk