The NFU is advising farmers who send their over-thirty-month cattle to abattoirs for processing for the human food chain to keep a close eye on hidden costs.

Under the new regime, brain stem samples will have to be removed from these cattle and sent to one of four laboratories – at Runcorn, Teddington, Edinburgh and Belfast – for testing.

The carcasses held at the abattoirs may only be released for further processing once the test results come back clear.

“The cost of the test itself is being paid for by the EU Commission,” explained NFU livestock adviser Alastair Johnston.

“The abattoir will only have to cover the cost of collecting the sample, the sampling kits and the delivery of the samples to the laboratories.

“The actual cost of this will depend on the location of the abattoir, so it will vary.

But there is a danger that this will be passed back to the farmer in the form of a discount for OTM cattle.”

Mr Johnston adds that abattoirs will be killing and testing in batches, so there should be economies of scale involved.

“We understand that abattoirs need to get the results quickly, but costs should not amount to more than 20-40.

This should be included in the bid price for the animals concerned.”

The NFU also has concerns that cattle may be discounted at 24 months.

This is the age at which Brussels is demanding that British cattle have their vertebral columns removed before they may go for export.

Current UK legislation only insists on de-boning at 30 months, (see story below).

“There is a real danger of market banding and this situation should be avoided as it doesn’t allow for transparency in the market,” warns Mr Johnston.

Meanwhile, National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster is urging producers only to put their best older animals forward for the food chain.

“We are suggesting that only well-fleshed cows likely to classify O+ in conformation and weigh over 300kg on the hook should be presented for commercial slaughter,” he said.

“These could make somewhere between 120p-140p/kg dw.

But any cow expected to make less than 100p from the market should be put through the OTMS instead because income, free of commercial deductions, is likely to be just as good.”

philip.clarke@rbi.co.uk

The Food Standards Agency has published a booklet for consumers that provides updated information on BSE.

It also explains the new UK-wide BSE testing controls that will replace the ban on cattle aged over thirty months from entering the food chain.

(www.food.gov.uk/news/pressreleases/2005/nov/bseleafletpress)