Changing to a fixed cut-off date for carcase splitting will not be implemented in time for the 2019 season.
Back in November, industry chiefs celebrated changes to the rules to move to a fixed cut-off date for aging lambs rather than dentition checks, implemented in time for the 2019 season.
NFU and NSA said the change could save the industry millions of pounds.
But it will not be implemented in time for the 2019 season.
NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay said: “In November last year we received a commitment from Defra ministers that the new regulation would be in place for this season.
“It is unacceptable that this has now been completely overturned with no indication of when it will be implemented.
He said NFU and other organisations had campaigned for over a decade for a change from dentition checks to a cut-off date which it believed would ‘improve accuracy and transparency and ensure that farmers are paid fairly for the value of their product’.
“It is needless to say that the delay in implementation is a huge setback for the UK sheep sector and that Defra’s failure to follow through on its commitment is extremely frustrating.”
The industry spends an estimated £24 million a year on dentition checks.
“It comes on the back of another Defra announcement that costs of £7.50 per sample for testing fallen stock of cattle over 48 months for Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathiy (TSE) will be passed on to the industry from April this year.”
The reasons for the policy not coming into place were down to the UK having to negotiate its status as a third country once it leaves the EU.
Mr Findlay said he understood those concerns and NFU had always said maintaining free and frictionless trade was vital, but it should ‘never prevent necessary domestic regulatory changes from taking place’.
“Especially when, as is the case here, the European Commission had already indicated it would be happy for the UK to age lambs using a cut-off date.
“The NFU will continue to seek assurances from government that the new carcase splitting arrangements will be implemented in time for the 2020 season.”
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said he fully agreed with the need for the UK to maintain or regain third country listing with the EU as the EU market was crucial for the sector.
But he said there had been a statement from the then Farming Minister George Eustice in November, followed by a written statement from Defra informing industry approval had been given.
“We were told a risk assessment had been done, everything had been cleared and, as the weeks
progressed, we were being led to believe all we were waiting for was FSA to agree
“This U-turn this has raised the question of trust in Ministers, especially as it comes just days
after Mr Eustice’s resignation from the Cabinet.
“He wrote to me shortly after the referendum boldly saying that if the EU will not allow us to change our method of ageing then this will be one of the first things we will change when we are no longer a member state.
“We are now told that if we are no longer members of the EU, we do not have the ability or latitude to make that change.
“Anyone still thinking that departure from the EU will result in freeing agriculture from
nonsensical rules and regulations should think again.
“We have been told now that formal legislative change is needed, and this will require a consultation to take place.
“This is the first time we have heard anything about this, and it leads me to conclude there is no way this can take place this season.
“I am aware people will have made business decisions this spring based on the expectations of
these rules changing and, on behalf of NSA, I would like to apologise if we have become tangled up
with giving what have become incorrect messages to industry.
“All I can say is that we were acting in good faith and working to keep industry informed using written statements and agreements from Defra and our Farming Minister.”
NSA will continue to push this issue and try to ensure it remains at the top of Defra’s agenda.
A Defra spokesperson said: “We are aware of the concerns from the sheep sector and the need to make progress on this matter.
“We will keep the sheep farming, the food processing and the retail industry closely updated on future implementation.”