24 May 1996

Cash promised to ease anxiety over cattle logjam – but when?

By Shelley Wright

FARMERS with cattle over 30 months awaiting slaughter have been promised an interim payment of £300 a beast. But there is no indication yet of when, or how, MAFF plans to pay.

Junior farm minister Tony Baldry made the announcement last Thursday, saying he was conscious of the anxiety felt by farmers who had cattle on their farms which could not be processed immediately under the disposal scheme.

"I am especially conscious of the position of specialist beef producers who do not have income from other sources," he added. In these exceptional circumstances the government had concluded that it was appropriate to make an advance payment to producers.

But on Wednesday this week a MAFF official said details of who gets paid, and when, were still being discussed. The NFU welcomed the prospect of payment but urged the ministry to sort out the details urgently because the money could offer a lifeline to many struggling producers.

Meanwhile, slaughtering of 30-month-plus cattle stepped up a gear last week with 22,700 animals processed – 15,000 in England, 7000 in Scotland and 700 in Wales. That was achieved despite three out of the 21 abattoirs involved in the scheme dropping out because of supermarket insistence that they will not buy clean beef from plants also involved in the cull.

Farm minister Douglas Hogg said he discussed the issue with retailers last week and that he did not believe their judgement was based on good science.

"However, if any abattoirs withdraw from the culling scheme I believe that we will be able to fill the gap and continue slaughtering at the capacity that is afforded by the renderers," said Mr Hogg. Cold stores also opened this week, which will allow MAFF to increase the number of abattoirs killing cattle over 30 months to 40 from next week. Mr Hogg admitted that the throughput in Wales had been less than he would wish but suggested that cold stores would offer a partial solution to the problem.

A MAFF official said ideas on increasing incineration capacity were being actively considered. And he stressed that grieves (the meal produced when carcasses are rendered) would not go to landfill sites. It was currently being stored by the Ministry of Defence in "remote sites", he added.

Despite their previous fears, abattoirs have heeded MAFFs instructions to accept casualty animals, with 500 slaughtered in England and Wales last week. MAFF has also opened a helpline for any farmer who wants advice on where to take casualty animals (0800-525890). &#42