20 September 1996

New measures to reduce cull backlog – as target put back

By Shelley Wright

GOVERNMENT has given up on its original hope of clearing the backlog of cattle awaiting slaughter under the 30-month scheme by mid-October.

The target now, according to cabinet minister Roger Freeman, is "well before Christmas".

Mr Freeman, who co-ordinates the scheme, last week announced two moves to tackle the backlog – more cold storage and a change to rendering practice.

Two further grain intervention warehouses were being converted to cold stores, at the cost of £1m, bringing the total to five. That would provide capacity for 25,000 extra carcasses, in addition to the 40,000 carcasses already in stores, Mr Freeman said.

And the Intervention Board confirmed that it was trying to secure additional storage space in commercial cold stores.

Restricted rendering capacity has always been the limiting factor in the 30-month scheme. But he announced that the rendering industry had agreed to change the current mix of material it processes, leaving more of the carcass to be put into cold stores, hence easing the bottleneck slightly.

The two new measures, along with plenty of spare slaughtering capacity, should allow up to 60,000 cattle a week to be killed, compared with the current weekly throughput of less than 30,000.

MAFF was conducting a telephone survey of 5000 farms to receive an up-to-date estimate of the numbers in the backlog. And preliminary results should be available next week.

NFU leader Sir Naish held further talks with Mr Freeman this week on tackling the backlog. Speaking after the meeting, Mr Freeman said they discussed "a number of ideas for further accelerating the clearance of the backlog". But burning in the fields was ruled out.n