Policy U-turn on slaughter co-ordination
By Tony McDougal
THE government was forced to make a policy U-turn this week after admitting the liveweight/deadweight price differential for cattle over 30 months old had unfairly favoured slaughterhouses at the expense of auction markets.
Abattoirs were ordered on Tuesday to liaise with the Intervention Board over the number of cattle sourced from livestock markets, after confirmation that trade in auction markets had slumped dramatically. MAFF ministers have previously refused industry requests to appoint a co-ordinator for the scheme.
But it is still unclear when the move will take effect. An IB spokesman said on Wednesday that it had no knowledge of the measures.
Figures from the Livestock Auctioneers Association show that their share of the prime beef market has dropped from 50%-20% over the past two months, with abattoirs taking 80%.
The slump in auction throughput has arisen because farmers taking stock to abattoirs are offered a 172p/kg deadweight price, compared with 86p/kg liveweight at markets.
The government wants the proportion of animals contracted for slaughter and brought via marts restored to their pre-March 20 level. If there is no agreement between abattoirs and the IB, the proportion will be fixed at 50%.
And in a move to tighten cull arrangements, Roger Freeman, the minister responsible for the domestic running of the BSE-crisis, announced only farmers or agents acting on behalf of the farmer will be able to present cattle to participating abattoirs for slaughter.
The move follows NFU reports that some abattoirs have been arranging for cattle to be purchased by tame dealers at knock-down rates, before shooting them to the top of the slaughtering queue to make extra cash.
Speaking to 150 farmers at Winford market, Somerset, on Tuesday, Mr Freeman said two hot-lines at the Intervention Board (01189-531666) and the Cabinet Office (0171-2700648) had been set up to deal with infringement complaints. And he said the weekly slaughter rate would be increased to 35,000 animals.
Responding to the changes, the Livestock Auctioneers Association claimed it had put forward an identical policy to MAFF in mid-April. David Tomlinson, LAA chairman, said there was desperation creeping into markets, which felt they had been treated unfairly in recent weeks.
Stephen Rossidies, NFU head of livestock, said the gentlemans protocol between abattoirs and marts demanded by farm minister, Douglas Hogg, had failed due to the financial incentives to sell on a deadweight basis.
Mr Rossidies admitted there had been a good deal of wheeler-dealing among abattoirs and their agents, with too many people taking money from farmers desperate to get rid of stock.
• Talks aimed at reaching an agreement in Scotland on changes to the 30-month slaughter scheme took place this week.
A meeting of the Scottish Meat Industry Liason Group on Tuesday, chaired by Scottish NFU vice-president George Lyon, is understood to have agreed that about 75% of cattle slaughtered under the scheme will go through auction mart collection centres. The remaining 25%, including casualty cows, can be sent direct to abattoirs.
A small team will be set-up to monitor the backlog of cattle on farms and co-ordinate allocations to abattoirs from market collection centres.
Roger Freeman:Changes to help hard-pressed auction markets.