7 May 1999

US government covers meat inspection bill

THE entire bill of $700m a year for meat inspection charges in the US is paid by the government.

"Farmers and meat plants pay nothing, it is seen as a consumer service and is funded by the taxpayer," Rosemary Mucklow, executive director of the National Meat Association of the US told the annual conference of Scottish meat wholesalers.

Scottish NFU president Jim Walker, who was at the meeting, said the facts from America showed that moves to pass charges to British meat plants, now delayed for a year, would place the home industry at a competitive disadvantage.

Comparative charges

"I expect the American situation to be repeated in many European countries. A study of comparative charges and how they are funded in EU countries is being compiled by the Meat and Livestock Commission and I expect it to show that Britain is in danger of being disadvantaged.

"There is probably a realisation now within the government that there is a fair trading issue within meat inspection charges and that could be a major reason why the minister announced last week that government would continue to fund charges for another year," said Mr Walker. &#42

Balance books by adding meat to pig and poultry rations

By Philip Clarke

REINTRODUCING meat and bonemeal to pig and poultry rations must be considered if the UK meat trade is to compete on global markets.

According to the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers, the body representing abattoirs and processors, the loss of value for the fifth quarter is undermining the UK industrys international competitiveness.

"Most items which had a positive value now represent a very significant cost in removal and disposal," said the federation in its annual strategy paper. "It is vital that positive value is recovered at the earliest opportunity."

Industry estimates put the loss of offal sales, plus disposal costs, at £110 a head for cattle, equivalent to 35p/kg deadweight. Costs of about £10/sheep were also falling on UK slaughterers due to the loss of the Russian pelt market and additional charges for specified risk material disposal.

Richard Cracknell, FFMW president, said: "At some point in time we are going to have to accept we must put some value back (into the fifth quarter)."

That could involve the production of meat and bonemeal for pig and poultry rations, once government advisers said it was safe to do so, "even if in the first instance this is limited to export only", he said.

It was ironic that pig bones were banned from use in this country, yet could be exported for MBM production on the continent, for feeding to pigs which could then be imported back into the UK, he added.

The FFMW strategy papers also warned of the dangers for the UK of a shrinking beef supply.

Consumer confidence in beef had returned, said Mr Cracknell. But this recovery was fragile and could falter if prices rose again due to a shortage of domestic supplies.

The calf processing and over-30-month schemes meant the UK now had to import 200,000t of beef a year. Increasing dependence on imports made the industry vulnerable to currency fluctuations and a weaker £ could push up prices to consumers.

The imminent demise of the calf processing scheme should eventually help supply, he said. The next step would be to prepare for the ending of the OTMS.

The FFMW suggested a phased lifting of the ban on older cattle beginning in August 2000, for cattle born after Aug 1, 1996. "Some of us have not given up on the idea of ever processing cows again," he said. &#42

IN BRIEF

&#8226 WEST Sussex County Council is writing to about 120 farmers and landowners reminding them to ensure that crops do not block public rights of way. Last year, the council wrote to about 60 farmers to remind them of their legal obligation to keep paths defined and clear of growing crops and received fewer complaints from the public as a result.

&#8226 THE maximum compensation payable in May for cattle slaughtered because they are affected with brucellosis, or are reactors, will be £543/head.

&#8226 THE application deadline for Tir Gofal, the new Welsh agri-environment scheme, has been extended by two weeks until May 21.

Malcolm Smith, senior director of Countryside Council for Wales, said: "We are very conscious that this is a particularly busy time for most farmers and that they have the task of completing and returning their IACS forms by May 15. So, we have extended our application window."

Badger culling trial continues

EAST Herefordshire has been chosen as the next area to be targeted as part of the governments badger culling trial.

Junior farm minister Jeff Rooker confirmed that the area would be the fourth of MAFFs planned 10-area trial which aims to establish the role badgers play, if any, in transmitting tuberculosis to cattle.

East Herefordshire has been selected because of a dramatic rise in TB cases in recent months. The NFU says the area has seen a 40%-50% increase in the number of herd breakdowns in the past year.

MAFF wildlife officers are expected to begin surveying the area over the next few weeks. Badger culling will start later in the year.

The announcement comes only days after a cross-party agriculture committee criticised MAFF for delays in implementing the trial (News, Apr 30). &#42

OP dip probe ends

JUNIOR farm minister Lord Donoughue has announced that an investigation into the effects of exposure to organophosphate sheep dips has been concluded. The study, carried out by the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Edinburgh, will be released later this month. &#42