Sheep industry leaders have voiced frustration at an ongoing lack of progress regarding the relaxation of rules requiring lamb carcasses to be split.
National Sheep Association (NSA) representatives met Defra minister George Eustice last Wednesday (11 May) to discuss a host of issues affecting the sector.
Topics included age-related rules which require lamb carcasses to be split for the spinal cord to be removed if the animal is showing their first permanent incisor.
The rules are designed to prevent, control and eradicate transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSE) – such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and scrapie.
TSE rules are EU-wide and require countries to remove spinal cords from animals that are either more than a year old or have one permanent incisor.
Rather than the mouthing system, the NSA has been lobbying for an annual cut-off date, with carcasses split from lambs slaughtered after 30 June each year.
It is understood Mr Eustice has suggested an end-of-May cut-off date – much to the frustration of NSA chief executive Phil Stocker and the association’s office-holders.
Mr Stocker said: “Through this process we have been pushed back from an end-of-June date to an end-of-May date, on the basis that we could revert to toothing after the end-of-May cut-off.
“However, if this is the only offer on the table, after which all old-season lambs would need to be spilt, we strongly feel we would be better off remaining with the current rules.”
Mr Stocker said it was unforgivable that nothing was being done – even though the government and the Food Standards Agency agreed there was no risk to human health from scrapie.
“No one is prepared to stand up and do anything about it, not to mention the wasted time and effort we have gone to so far during this process,” he said.
A Defra spokeswoman said Mr Eustice attended the meeting in his capacity as an MP, rather than as a government minister.
Both Defra and the Food Standards Agency shared the industry’s desire to move forward with reducing the burden of the controls on the sheep industry, said the spokeswoman.
She added: “We are discussing with the NFU how best to present the sheep ageing proposal to the [European] Commission.”
Officials were also considering advice from the government’s chief veterinary officer on how best to make the case to the commission.