By FWi staff

AN immediate lift in the age of prime cattle able to enter the human food chain to 36 months must be urgently considered, according to the National Beef Association.

About 1800 of the 15,000-16,000 animals being culled under Over Thirty Month Scheme (OTMS) rules each week at present are prime steers and heifers less than 36 months old.

Their beef would be a useful addition to what is rapidly becoming an undersupplied domestic market, said the NBA.

John Bell, NBA vice-chairman believes that at least 600 of these animals are steers which have either become the victims of poor records management by finishers who have let them creep over the 30-month barrier or have not had enough time to reach slaughter condition.

“These are big, rangy bullocks from the increasing number of organic farms and a smattering of late-maturing native-bred animals on difficult high ground – and their contribution to overall prime beef supplies is already badly missed,” said Mr Bell.

The NBA said it was not at this stage “agitating” to secure the first step in a phased pushing back of the cull age limit which would eventually allow cow beef back on the market.

“We accept that scientists are still cautious about the re-introduction of beef from animals over 42 months old, and that independent review bodies in London and Brussels hold the re-entry of cow beef under constant examination,” said Mr Bell.

But the NBA believes there are grounds for optimism on the scientific front having been told that the chances of a prime animal with sub-clinical BSE moving through an abattoir over 2000 are now regarded by specialists as nil.

The NBA also speculates that after June it may be possible to say the same about animals under 36 months old too.

“If there was no sub-clinical BSE among them it would be sensible to allow them back into the human food chain,” said Mr Bell.

“We think Treasury officials would support this too. The inclusion of under-36 month old prime cattle in the OTMS is currently costing the Exchequer almost £500,000 a week.

“If the age limit was lifted by six months much of this expense would be avoided.”