9 March 2001

Farmers frustrated by hitches over slaughter scheme

By Alistair Driver

ANGER at the actions of abattoirs and frustration over the administration of the new licence to slaughter scheme have tempered relief that fresh British meat is back on sale.

Some large abattoirs are continuing to import meat from abroad rather than risk slaughtering British stock. There has been fury over the prices abattoirs are paying for livestock (see page 23).

Farmers were also frustrated by hitches in getting the scheme going early in the week.

By Tuesday pig capacity had reached 50%, beef capacity 40% and lamb capacity just under 30%, as 2700t of meat was processed, according to Meat and Livestock Commission figures. Just over 250 out of 390 abattoirs were approved to take British animals.

The NFU said the scheme had started well but said there have been problems.

NFU head of commodities, Simon Lunniss, said farmers in infected areas are still not allowed to move their animals, while some processors are refusing to kill British stock.

Among them, Dawn Meats is not slaughtering British animals at its Cardington plant, Bedfordshire, which has boning and packing facilities. It says the entire site could be closed for days if a suspect animal is found. Anglo Beef Processors (ABP) is taking the same line at its Shrewsbury and Ellesmere plants.

MAFF chief vet Jim Scudamore said suspected disease in the lairage does not necessarily mean the whole plant has to be closed.

But Peter Scott, general secretary of the British Meat Federation, which represents larger abattoirs, said: "Abattoirs are concerned that they are carrying all the risk. They have to ask is it worth it?"

Production is being hampered by the conditions attached to the scheme, he added. There have been long queues at abattoirs as vehicles are disinfected and extra veterinary inspection takes place.

At least one farmer was turned away from an abattoir by the Meat Hygiene Service in breach of strict one-way journey movement conditions. Leicestershire producer Alan Tacy was sent back to his farm, in Peatling Parva, called back to a Birmingham abattoir when the MHS realised the mistake.

Mr Lunnis said the NFU is urging abattoirs to help producers. Some local trading standards offices have imposed stricter conditions on licences than others and farmers in some areas have been hit by delays in issuing licences, he added.

Licences issued so far allow animals to be taken direct to slaughter. MAFF is hoping to extend the scheme next week so cattle and sheep can be taken to collection centres, before being transported to abattoirs.

Meat killed under the scheme at Jaspers abattoir at Treburley, Cornwall, may have to be destroyed after it became apparent it was listed by MAFFas a "dangerous contact".

Back again…British livestock returned to some abattoirs this week.