4 December 1998

Check records to ensure quality beef for export

By Simon Wragg

PRODUCERS should check cattle records on-farm to ensure there is a pool of quality cattle eligible for export, urged industry leaders.

The main export requirement will be to verify that a calfs dam was alive six months after its birth to guard against risk of vertical transmission of BSE. Records will be checked against MAFF records identifying which dams have been suspected or confirmed as having the disease, the MLCs Duncan Sinclair told showgoers.

Signets Geoff Fish advised producers to examine their records. Calf passports and suckler cow subsidy claims may underpin attempts to obtain verification that an animal can be exported, he said.

"Act now. Check dam ear-tags match those on the MAFF suckler cow subsidy records entered this year. If they do not, contact MAFF," urged Mr Fish. A recent Signet survey found 5-10% of dam ear-tags did not match MAFF subsidy lists, he warned. While that will cover calves from suckler herds, use of data from NMR could verify some dairy-bred calves, "The problem is that only about 50% of dairy herds milk record, so it still leaves a gap," said Mr Sinclair.

But some dams may fall through the net; for example, where a cow dies of staggers within six months of a calfs birth, he suspected. "Producers will have to accept this as being inevitable."

Brian Pack, chief executive of ANM Group, which formerly exported beef worth £18m a year, backed the call to check records. "We will want cattle finished to a higher quality, likely fat class 4H. But if records do not show a dam was alive six months after the calfs birth it wont go for export."

Highlighting the importance of record checks, Mr Pack added: "It would be a dark day for exports if there isnt a pool of verified cattle waiting once the door re-opens."

Many industry leaders say it is too early to recommend which cattle and systems will best serve the fledgling market. Andersons Francis Mordaunt echoed the advice of many: "Talk to buyers over the next few months. It will be too early to talk about contracts or volumes, but at least start talking."

Reaction from producers about the lifting of the ban was mixed in the cattle lines at Smithfield. Lancs producer Peter Bennett from Burnley welcomed its end, but did not expect to see much movement for a year or two. Finishing Angus crosses, Mr Bennett added: "The immediate rise in beef prices after the announcement was welcome, but is it a flash in the pan?"

Like many producers, pedigree Limousin breeder Christine Williams, Shifnal, Shropshire, is sceptical. "It is welcome news that exports are restarting, but it will depend on the EUs red tape how quickly it happens."

Sussex farm manager Simon Jenner, who breeds pedigree Sussex cattle at Highfields Farm, Mayfield, said he would still focus on supplying the butcher trade.

With 500 head of commercial Angus cattle, Scots finisher George McFadzean from Woodhead of Mailer, Perth, said he might fare better than most. "Quality will be important to re-open export markets. I am sure there are still discerning buyers out there. But sterling must shift to make beef affordable." &#42