23 August 1996

The mature beef scheme is discriminatory, says UKASTA

By Shelley Wright

LEADING feed firms have denounced the governments mature beef scheme as artificially restrictive and discriminatory. And they warn that thousands of producers could be excluded from the scheme for no good reason.

The firms major grievance is that, to qualify for the scheme, any concentrates fed to herds in the past four years must either have been mixed on-farm, without meat and bonemeal (MBM), or have come from mills that mixed ruminant feeds only. And for herds to continue their membership of the scheme the same conditions would apply.

Jim Reed, director general of the trade body UKASTA, said that these restrictions would be met by only a tiny minority of beef farmers because less than 1% of the countrys feed mills were dedicated ruminant-only plants.

MAFF insisted that the scheme had to operate to very tight standards if it was to be credible. And the reason for insisting that feed came from ruminant-only mills hinged on previous incidents of cross-contamination in multi-species mills where MBM in pig and poultry feed had got into ruminant diets.

Mr Reed said: "We were not properly consulted on these rules in advance. Having pointed out the flaws to the officials anyway, we have been advised in reply that the eligibility conditions will not be amended for the time being."

Artificially restrictive terms

Government has also told UKASTA that any possible modifications to the mature beef scheme would first have to be approved by the BSE advisory committee, SEAC. "We certainly cannot support a scheme couched in such artificially restrictive terms," Mr Reed said.

He said UKASTA could see no justification for this discrimination based on feeding history. "Only a small number of our members mills operate as dedicated ruminant mills, although many more have dedicated production lines."

But there was no reason why multi-species mills that stopped using MBM years ago should now be penalised. UKASTA planned to meet junior farm minister Angela Browning in the next week to urge her to reconsider the scheme.

Mr Reed added that the use of MBM in all livestock feeds had been banned since April. UKASTA members had implemented the governments MBM recall scheme, and MAFF had subsequently supervised the cleansing of premises where MBM and feed containing it were previously present.

"It is wholly inconsistent with this rigorous implementation of controls for the government now to say that beef producers in this scheme may use feed produced in ruminant-only mills but not from multi-species mills," he insisted. &#42