21 November 1997

Tooth check errors

UP to 1700 over-30-month cattle entered the human food chain last year because the governments systems of checking the age of animals by their teeth was not watertight.

The European Court of Auditors discovered the problem when they checked the ages of animals, using their birth certificates, on which payments under the EU Commissions beef marketing scheme (for meat going for human consumption) had been made. The auditors found that 1695 animals incorrectly received payments between Mar 20 and June 30, 1996.

John Wiggins, UK member of the EU Court of Auditors, said there was no evidence of deliberate malpractice, with all the animals only just over 30 months. He added the commission felt the teeth checks were an acceptable method of determining the age of livestock.

Ian Gardiner, NFU policy director, said the introduction of cattle passports for all livestock from July 1, 1996, had closed the loophole, adding that any OTMS animals which entered the food chain would have been subjected to the strict laws surrounding the removal of specified risk materials.

MAFF said it had adopted the teeth policy due to the lack of paperwork and animal birth certificates available from UK farmers.