DEFRA WILL abolish the over 30-month scheme for cattle as early as July 2005, an industry insider has told farmers weekly. “

We have been given a range of dates that extends from July to September next year. But we are urging DEFRA to fix its sights on the earliest date possible,” the insider said.

The scheme will then be replaced by a new version that will continue to remove cattle born before Aug 1, 1996, the date from which feeding mammalian meat and bonemeal was banned.

“About 25% of beef suckler cows will have to go into the new scheme, but the release back on to the market of about 500,000 animals a year will raise our self-sufficiency to 80%.”

“The extra supply will lead directly to a boost in our market share, as retailers are ready and waiting to take more UK beef,” he said.

Meanwhile, DEFRA has appointed an independent expert to review its work on BSE cases in animals that were born after Aug 1, 1996.

William Hill of the University of Edinburgh will report back to DEFRA by the end of May 2005, allowing time for DEFRA to review and implement any suggestions made by Prof Hill before the OTMS ban is lifted.

Although meat and bonemeal has been banned from Aug 1996, nearly 100 cattle born after this date have been confirmed with BSE.

DEFRA believes the most likely cause for these was the use of infected food due to the continuation of MBM feeds use in many countries across Europe until 2001.

“We want to eradicate this disease and it is important for us to be sure that we are not overlooking any important factors and that the work we are doing is comprehensive and scientifically sound,” said chief veterinary officer Debby Reynolds.

“We have deliberately chosen someone who is eminent in his own field but who has not been involved in TSE work before.

“He can be expected to probe and challenge the evidence,” she added.