OTMScould reopen to
ease slaughter backlog
By Alistair Driver
MINISTERS are considering an urgent reopening of the Over-Thirty-Months Scheme (OTMS) to slaughter hundreds of thousands of older cattle which have built up on farms because of foot-and-mouth restrictions.
A growing backlog of 200,000 animals has caused huge problems for farmers since the scheme was suspended in February at the start of the F&M crisis. But even if it reopens, the queue of cattle is likely to build because of a shortage of vets, rendering plants and abattoirs to dispose of the animals.
FARMERS WEEKLY reported last week that English and Welsh farmers faced a longer wait than producers in Scotland for the scheme to resume (News, Jul 6). But it is understood that ministers have since been spurred on by the backlog. They want a swift reopening of the scheme across the country as long as it doesnt impact on F&M controls.
The Intervention Board, which oversees the scheme, was due to submit a re-start plan to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs today (July 13). Board officials are scheduled to discuss the practicalities of reopening the scheme with interested parties, including farmers and abattoir leaders, next Wednesday (July 18).
Neither DEFRA nor the Intervention Board would be drawn on a timetable. But NFU meat hygiene adviser Tom Hind said: "I think we will have something in place by the end of August." Similar predictions were made by the National Beef Association and Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) which represents medium-sized abattoirs.
But there is little immediate prospect of all licensed abattoirs returning to the scheme. Slaughterhouses and renderers in England and Wales have been pushed to the limit by the F&M cull.
Industry representatives said reopening the scheme in both countries would probably therefore start on a regional basis, depending on available abattoir and rendering capacity.
Some abattoirs will continue to kill animals under the F&M Livestock Welfare (Disposal) Scheme, said farm leaders. Other slaughterhouses that also killed animals for the food chain may never return after the Food Standards Agency promised to examine the BSE-risk in eight dual use abattoirs.
A shortage of vets available to oversee slaughter could also prevent the scheme resuming at some abattoirs, conceded a spokesman for the Meat Hygiene Service. He added: "The Intervention Board will put forward proposals for re-opening specific plants. We will then say whether or not we can provide a service."
The official number of confirmed F&M cases rose to 1837 as FARMERS WEEKLY went to Press on Wednesday (Jul 11). DEFRA reported that 3,532,000 animals had been identified for slaughter. *
See Livestock, page 31.
The animals included 553,000 cattle, 2,830,000 sheep and 129,000 pigs. About 8000 carcasses were awaiting disposal.
• Pig farmers have been urged to maintain the highest levels of biosecurity to stop the spread of foot-and-mouth. Six new cases were confirmed at Thirsk in North Yorkshire, raising concerns for three million pigs – 25% of the UK herd – in neighbouring East Yorkshire. (See Livestock, page 31)