14 June 1996

Price cuts loom for deadweight in BSEscheme

By Shelley Wright

THE EU Commission is likely to reduce the deadweight price by 15% for cattle slaughtered under the 30-month disposal scheme, farm minister Douglas Hogg has warned.

He said that commission officials on a recent inspection visit to the UK, found the existing co-efficient, offering producers a deadweight price twice that of the liveweight option, "appeared to be unduly favourable".

Auctioneers have been complaining about the price differential since the 30-month scheme began. The advantage to cattle producers, especially those with heavier beef animals which killed out at more than 50%, led to a jump in the number of cattle going direct to abattoirs.

Mr Hogg said the commission, which foots 70% of the bill, was concerned that the current deadweight price was too expensive. And he predicted that the commission would revise the coefficient to 1.7 times that of liveweight option, giving a deadweight price of 145p/kg instead of the current 170p/kg.

But the suggestion has angered the NFU. An official said the union was extremely unhappy and that farmers who had failed to get animals into the scheme now faced being disadvantaged. "The original coefficient was agreed by Europe and it would be very unfair and disruptive to change it now. We have written to the commission urging it not to reduce the deadweight price and we are appealing to UK ministers to fight this," he said.

But the official conceded that if there was no deadweight price advantage then traditional marketing patterns would probably be restored.

Last week Roger Freeman, Cabinet minister responsible for co-ordinating the scheme, demanded that there should be a return to pre-BSE crisis marketing patterns. That would involve 75% of cull cows and 50% of beef animals being sent through auction marts.

The Intervention Board said this week that this principle had been agreed by the industry and that it would check to ensure the figures were achieved. An official added that abattoirs had also been told that they could accept cattle only from a farmer or his agent, not from dealers.

"The abattoirs understand the spirit of what we are trying to achieve and if they dont comply then they will be removed from 30-month scheme," the official warned.

More than 117,000 cattle over 30 months old have now been slaughtered in the UK since the scheme began in May.