3 August 2001

Vet shortage hampers OTMS

By Alistair Driver

THE backlog of cattle waiting to enter the Over-Thirty-Months Scheme will continue to grow in England and Wales after its resumption got off to a stuttering start.

A lack of rendering capacity because of the continued foot-and-mouth cull and a shortage of vets are among a number of constraints that are still hampering the OTMS.

The scheme that removes older cattle most at risk from BSE from the food chain resumed in six licensed abattoirs in England on Monday (Jul 30). It was halted in February because of foot-and-mouth disease.

But eight in England and both of the licensed Welsh abattoirs remained closed, limiting capacity to about 4000 when 9000 animals would normally be entered. However, capacity in Scotland and Northern Ireland is now approaching normality.

The NFU said the resumption is extremely good news, but union president Ben Gill warned that the backlog, estimated at over 250,000, is reaching a critical level. "Even starting now it will be difficult and will require patience," he said.

The National Beef Association said it has been assured more abattoirs will come on to the scheme in the coming weeks. "But the backlog will continue to build," according to chief executive Robert Forster.

He blames the governments reluctance to burn animals in public for the extra pressure on rendering capacity that has, in turn, hampered the OTMS.

Farmers Union of Wales president Bob Parry accused the Intervention Board of blatant discrimination against Welsh farmers because of its failure to open the two Welsh abattoirs.

Following discussions with Welsh rural affairs minister Carwyn Jones the board has now agreed to try and get the TWM abattoir, in Llanelli, operating by the end of August.

Mr Jones blamed the delay in Wales on concerns that guidelines to ensure the safety of workers in OTMS abattoirs were not being consistently adopted. But he said that this had now been resolved.

But an FUW spokesman said no real reason had been given. He said the reason could be the effect of the ongoing Welsh F&M cull on rendering capacity.

NFU meat hygiene advise Tom Hind said farmers in Cumbria and the north east of England, as well as the east and south east of England are also affected.

He said the main problem is a lack of Meat Hygiene Service vets and suggested the government scrap the requirement for MHS vets to be present at OTMS abattoirs.

A MHS spokesman admitted there were not enough vets, but promised the MHS would work all-out to provide the staff to enable as many abattoirs to open as possible. "We are struggling because a lot of our vets are employed with foot-and-mouth and it is the peak holiday season," he said.

An Intervention Board spokeswoman said some OTMS abattoirs are still choosing to cull animals under the F&M Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme rather rejoin OTMS. &#42