Increasing demand for native-bred beef will be hard hit if producers are forced to slaughter prime cattle at under 24 months to meet new rules on removing vertebral column.

The UK is exempt from an EU requirement to take out vertebral column at 24 months.

But that derogation is set to end as one of the conditions for winding up the date-based export scheme.

Farmers say native cattle breeds are not fully mature at 24 months.

To slaughter them at this age will not only mean the beef lacks flavour, but will force cattle to be sold at lighter weights.

And many local butchers, who specialise in mature, native-bred beef, say the new rule will mean customers will no longer be able to buy “beef on the bone”.

Aberdeenshire Highland cattle breeder Jim Fraser, who sells finished cattle direct to retail butchers from his farm at East Tilbouries, believes many native breed producers are unaware of the impact the legislation will have.

“The government told us to become more innovative and more market orientated.

So we started producing a specialist product and developed a market for it.

Now they’re taking it away,” he said

He reckons he could be losing up to 100kg in weight by selling Highland steers at 24 instead of 30 months.

“These are native cattle that need time to finish naturally and develop their full flavour.

They can’t be pushed-on in an intensive system,” added Mr Fraser.

Lancs butcher Roy Porter, who specialises in native-bred beef at his shop in Chatburn, added that having to dispose of bones from older cattle would add substantially to costs.

Graham Bidston, chief executive of the National Federation of Meat and Food Retailers, said 50% of his members retailed beef that was between 24 and 30 months old.

“We’ve made strong representations to the Food Standards Agency because this legislation will have a significant impact on beef retailing.

Everyone needs to be aware that the 24-month rule will kick in as soon as the beef export ban is lifted, unless this legislation is reviewed,” said Mr Bidston.

Member state experts gave a mixed response to EU plans for ending the date-based export scheme when they met in Brussels on Tuesday (24 January).

While no vote was taken, it was clear that France and Germany had strong reservations about allowing a return to normal exporting for British beef.

The food chain committee is expected to vote on the issue in early March.

fwnews@rbi.co.uk