21 April 2000

Weight limit moves

HOPES of an early lifting of the 560kg weight limit on cows entering the over-thirty-month scheme have been raised, following discussions in Brussels and Luxembourg.

The move to relax the restriction was promised as part of the recent Downing Street rescue package and is seen as a vital way of getting more cash quickly into livestock producers pockets.

But Brussels approval is needed before MAFF can effect the change.

Last week the commission drew sharp criticism from UK farming bodies for failing to even discuss the issue at the fortnightly beef management committee.

But speaking at this weeks farm council in Luxembourg EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, confirmed that raising the OTMS weight limit would be on the agenda at the next committee meeting on Apr 28.

"I will not predict which way it will go. Member states must decide," he said. "But personally I am in favour of the principle."

The NFU is confident the UK will get the go-ahead. "We do not anticipate much opposition and it is possible the limit could be lifted soon after," said Damien Phillips of the NFUs Brussels office.

If that is the case, farmers with older cows slightly above the 560kg limit may be advised to hold on to their animals.

But it remains to be seen whether MAFF and Brussels go for a total removal of the weight limit or just an increase.

Some observers think a partial increase is the most likely outcome, even though it is the Treasury which will pay the full cost above 560kg.

The National Beef Association is concerned that there may be a cut in the value of compensation or a downgrading for clean cattle from £0.9/kg (53.9p/kg) to the cull cow level of £0.8/kg (47.9p/kg).