Sheep sector closes in on mandatory carcass classification

Farm industry leaders have unanimously backed plans for a mandatory sheep carcass classification system based on the Europ grid.

The support was revealed in responses to a Defra consultation entitled Fairness in the supply chain, which called for views on improving price transparency in the livestock sector.

Of the farmer and abattoir representatives asked whether a mandatory sheep carcass classification system should be introduced, 100% were in favour.

See also: Sheep industry to save £24m after carcass-splitting rule change

The respondents included the NFU, National Sheep Association and Livestock Auctioneers Association. 

NFU chief livestock adviser John Royle said the strength of the backing would help to convey a message to the government that the move was the right way forward.

“We have fought for years for a single system across all abattoirs that will allow greater transparency on prices being paid across the UK,” he said.

Mr Royle said a Europ grid for sheepmeat would end discrepancies between different abattoirs and provide greater certainty and information for producers who were trying to hit specs.

This feedback gives the producer vital information on carcass characteristics that can be used to aid future stock management decisions, Mr Royle said.

Having a single spec could also underpin efforts to win potential export customers who will want to have clear information about the products they are buying, he added.

Among the other key issues in the consultation was a potential end to the practice of rounding down weights.

Instead, carcasses could be weighed to the nearest 100g (deadweight) and a price calculated accordingly.

Rounding down means farmers have lost potential revenue in the past, so this would be another sensible and fair step to take that would benefit the producer, Mr Royle said.

Consultation highlights

  • A standard dressing spec across England that could be replicated in Wales and Scotland. A second possible export spec may also be added
  • An end to the practice of rounding down. All carcasses will be weighed and the price reported to 100g deadweight
  • All lambs processed in abattoirs killing more than 1,000/week be classified using the Europ grid with an optional S grade
  • Classifiers will be trained, authorised, RPA-inspected and licensed to ensure consistency across Great Britain and all plants.
  • Abattoirs will report deadweight prices to the levy bodies. Lambs sold through a live market will be classified and reported to the levy body.
  • Abattoirs will be required to make available and publish all terms and conditions and deductions.

A Defra statement on the consultation pledged to move forward cautiously with plans to implement carcass classification.

“When doing so we will bear in mind the burden on industry and the costs of inspections and enforcement,” the department said.

“We do not intend to overcomplicate it, or hinder production and we would aim to keep sheep carcass classification proportional to beef and pig classification,” it added.

Defra also noted that there had been a strong preference for publishing schedules of charges across all livestock sectors.

“We note that many abattoirs do this already, and some have it available on password-protected websites for their customers,” Defra stated.

It said that the main message received was scheduling charges would be helpful if available without cost or hindrance to all current or potential customers.

“However, we will develop this policy carefully, considering commercial confidentiality laws,” Defra added.