17 May 1996

Disposal scheme cartel claim by MPs

ACCUSATIONS of a cartel between big abattoirs and renderers were raised by MPs in a Commons clash over the governments handling of the disposal scheme for cattle over 30 months.

Paul Tyler, Lib Dem agriculture and rural affairs spokesman, led the debate expressing concern at the continuing delays and confusion arising from the government scheme.

He said that far from MAFF driving the scheme, "it seems to have been hijacked by the renderers and supermarkets". And he added that it was government officials who had designed the scheme in the first place, yet after nearly eight weeks it was still characterised by dither and delay.

But Tory MPs hit back, accusing Mr Tyler of not knowing the facts. The NFU and retailers had devised the scheme and brought it forward to government as a way to restore public confidence.

Mr Tyler did get support from many MPs from all parties in his calls for more abattoirs to be allowed to slaughter cattle under the scheme. The renderers had the government over a barrel, despite junior farm minister Tony Baldrys insistence last week that he had them under control, Mr Tyler said.

But Mr Baldry said there was finite rendering capacity and he could not create more "by means of some divine intervention". It was the rendering capacity that dictated how many animals could be processed each week. Initially renderers in England and Wales could handle 18,000 animals a week. More abattoirs would be brought into the scheme as soon as cold stores were opened, enabling 22,000 beasts to be killed a week.

But Tory MP Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) insisted there was a cartel forming between the big abattoirs and the renderers. "The big abattoirs are saying to the renderers that if the renderers take cattle from any other abattoir, they will not do business with the renderer again when the scheme is over."

Mr Baldry said that any suggestion that renderers were holding people to ransom was unworthy. And responding to the allegations that government had not acted appropriately, Mr Baldry said that the scheme was unprecedented. It was the largest and most complicated slaughter programme ever introduced in the UK.