By John Burns

A RECENT dry run of the proposed procedure for selecting cattle for the Date Based Export Scheme revealed that about 5% of cattle passports contained errors.

Thats according to Anthony Gibson, director of the NFUs south-west region and chairman of the St Merryn Meat Producer Club which provided volunteers for the test.

He warns that, if cattle arrive at abattoirs with incorrect passports, they will be returned to the farm and passports sent to MAFFs special DBES office in Gloucester for investigation.

That could be a lengthy process, and may involve keeping cattle past their best condition, or even past the Over-30-Month Scheme limit, before a valid passport can be issued.

It is, therefore, essential to double-check details on passports now and sort out any errors with the British Cattle Movement Service at an early stage.

Mr Gibson believes there will be an adequate supply of potential export cattle meeting all the requirements, but he does not know whether a price premium will be available to compensate for the extra trouble involved for producers.

Producers must decide in advance which cattle will be ready for slaughter in a months time.

Then they must send forms stating their passport numbers and the ear numbers of their dams to St Merryn Meat for it to carry out cross-checking procedures through MAFFs office at Gloucester.

Proof is required that dams were alive when cattle reached six months old. At the abattoir, passports will be checked again using a live link to Gloucester.

Cattle required by the abattoir will be top quality and so will attract a quality premium. But producer club deputy chairman Ian Scott says he personally would want at least 5p/kg deadweight on top of that to cover the extra work.

John Dracup, procurement manager for St Merryn doubts whether there will be any premium initially. “Its a question of re-establishing the market.

“And there are additional MHS costs and fees for cattle ID checks. But if there is an additional margin in those cattle, then producers will receive more.”

Mr Gibson says St Merryns bold approach will benefit the region. With St Merryn believed to be the only company in England willing to take the plunge into unknown territory, the south-west will have a head start once serious exports resumed, he says.

Mr Dracup believes the company has to go forward.

“Its no use letting someone else take the market, especially when we have the systems in place – were probably the only company who has them.”

St Merryn cannot formally apply to become a DBES-plant until the EU sets the timetable for starting beef exports.

But Mr Dracup feels the application will be straightforward because there have already been official visits to the plant at Probus in Cornwall.