24 July 1997
Removing SRMs costs more … so who will pay?
By BOYD CHAMPNESS
Unless the government funds the costs of removing specified risk materials from cattle and sheep at slaughter, they are likely to be passed back to abattoir owners and farmers, the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers has warned.
On Tuesday, EU farm ministers cleared the path for the European Commission to introduce new abattoir rules for the EU, forcing abattoir owners to remove specified risk materials, such as the brain and spinal cord, from sheep and cattle at slaughter.
The federations general secretary Peter Scott said the industry welcomed the changes because it required member states to comply with the UKs strict code of practice. He said the cost of removing SRMs from cattle was currently about 15 per beast and doing the same for sheep could be as much as 10 per animal.
The UK currently removes all SRMs from cattle but will have to gear itself up for the removal of sheep SRMs before the start of next year. Mr Scott said the removal of spinal cords from sheep was a very difficult process and would dramatically slow down the production line.
Mr Scott said abattoirs would have to employ someone to check the age of each animal and additional staff to remove the spinal cord. Most likely the Meat Hygiene Service would have to boost its number of meat inspectors and the SRMs would have to be stained so they remained separate from other offal. The SRMs would have to be collected separately by renderers which would be an additional expense passed back to the abattoir.
The federation has lobbied the government for some sort of compensation package to pay for the removal of SRMs. The government currently offers support payments to renderers for the removal of SRMs, but this is expected to be abolished from March 1, next year. The government has already started winding back its support payments to renderers who have increased their charges as a result.
Mr Scott said the strength of supermarket chains would make it difficult to pass these additional costs to the consumer.
Obviously the plants are going to have to absorb some of these costs. The problem is that there is very little margin on sheep as it is. People are going to have to pay less for their sheep, but you cant expect to pass all the costs back to the farmer, he said.
One of the other concerns is that the process requires the sheep carcass to be split in half. Some of our traditional customers dont want their carcasses split in half. So if we go down this line, its likely to boost live exports, which wont make the animal welfare groups, or my members, very happy, Mr Scott said.