The ending of the over-30-month scheme on 23 January has been officially confirmed by DEFRA this week, although there continue to be rumblings of disquiet among Scottish producers, who fear the timing is unfair.

Northumberland beef producer Duff Burrell, chairman of the National Beef Association, said any extension to the OTMS beyond the date when the Older Cattle Disposal Scheme begins would be too costly and cause a row with the EU.

“DEFRA has always said the OTMS could not continue indefinitely.

There had to be a cut off point and now we have it.

If we had continued beyond the date of the introduction of the OCDS the rest of Europe would have called foul.

“And OTMS is costing the government money; it wants to stop spending on the scheme as quickly as possible now that older cattle can enter the food chain and the OCDS is in place for January,” said Mr Burrell.

A statement issued by NFU Scotland said that, while cattle aged over 30 months have been reintroduced into the food chain subject to a negative BSE test, cattle born before August 1996 will remain permanently excluded from the food chain and the Older Cattle Disposal Scheme had been set up to dispose of these animals.

“The EC’s Beef Management Committee announced a week ago that the OCDS would operate from Monday, 23 January, 2006, and it was always expected that the end of the OTMS would coincide with that date,” it said.

“But this has the potential to cause serious problems for the industry, as animals have been booked in beyond this date.”

Farming organisations in Scotland are calling for OTMS bookings to be honoured, irrespective of whether the slaughter date is after 23 January or, alternatively, to ensure there is sufficient capacity to deal with these cattle.

But Lancs farmer Jim Birkett, the county’s NFU chairman, welcomed the announcement for the ending of the OTMS scheme.

“Dairy farmers and suckler herd owners can now plan ahead. We can now get on with achieving the best returns from these older cattle,” said Mr Birkett, who is organising a meeting between farmers and the meat trade at Lancaster Auction Mart on 6 December.

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com