Boris Johnson wades in on sheep splitting rules

Livestock farmers will face fewer restrictions, yet will still enjoy the same level of support, should the UK quit the EU, according to Leave campaigner Boris Johnson.

Talking to farmers at Clitheroe market in Lancashire on Thursday (2 June), Mr Johnson suggested that EU rules for spinal cord removal were obsolete.

“I’ve just been talking to people about this rule that says, if your sheep has two teeth, you’ve got to slaughter it in a certain way to remove the spinal tissue,” he told journalists. “What is the point of that?”

See also: EU referendum: Farmers Weekly’s view

Brought in under EU disease controls, to help prevent the spread of scrapie, carcasses from sheep over 12-months-old or which have cut their adult incisors, must be split to have the spinal cord removed.

Mr Johnson said this practice was “out of date” and could only be removed if the UK was in charge of its own rules.

But the NFU, which is in favour of remaining within the EU in the upcoming referendum, has cited this rule as an example of UK government gold-plating.

“In the UK, the implementing legislation requires the removal of 100% of the specified risk material,” said a recent briefing document. “This is in contrast to other EU countries that instead require the removal of ‘as much as possible’.

“As a result of this, spinal cord removal by any other method than splitting is illegal in the UK. Other member states permit alternative, less destructive methods, such as vacuum removal.”

According to the NFU, sheep carcasses can be devalued by as much as 40% as a result of carcass splitting.

Question of support

Industry representatives have also challenged Mr Johnson’s assurances that UK farmers would get the same level of support in a post-Brexit world.

Writing in Farmers Weekly this week, former NFU president and active Remain campaigner Sir Peter Kendall said he was always “nervous of politicians bearing gifts”.

“There is a need for a reality check on the ‘£350m/week’ to spend if we leave claim, representing the apparent ‘cost’ of our EU membership,” he wrote. “After Margaret Thatcher’s rebate, the regional funds and the money for farmers, this figure is actually £153m at best.

“Promises abound about what this will be spent on – the NHS, a rebate on council tax, the list goes on. It sounds to me like farming would be at the bottom of a big pile of other priorities.”

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