The NFU and National Sheep Association (NSA), supported by a number of other industry bodies, want a single date, June 30, to be used to determine when the carcase splitting requirement applies to lambs in the UK.
More than 30 representatives from the sheep sector and UK governments met last Thursday at a meeting instigated by NFU and NSA to discuss the proposal.
Current EU regulation on TSEs requires spinal cord to be removed from sheep of more than 12 months of age or which have one permanent incisor erupted through the gum.
The UK interpretation of this requires carcases to be split for the removal of spinal cord and uses the mouthing of sheep as the mechanism to determine which carcases this applies to.
UK sheep identification rules use June 30 each calendar year as a date to define when lambs are deemed to be 12 months old. This cut-off date is used as it is impossible to record individual birth dates for all lambs born.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said the EU has accepted this as suitable for the UK situation.
“Using this same calendar date for deciding when carcases are split will remove a great deal of confusion from the food chain,” he said.
NFU livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said carcase splitting costs the industry a huge amount of money, not just through devaluing the carcase but also time spent mouthing sheep in markets and abattoirs.
“While we strongly believe the practice of splitting carcases is not necessary at all, an immediate improvement could be made by revisiting the way we decide whether carcases are split,” he said.
He described mouthing sheep as an ‘arbitrary and subjective measure that creates cost and confusion’.
“It leads to animals under 12 months being split that shouldn’t, and animals over 12 months not being split that should,” he said.
“Moving to a calendar date of 30th June will mean some animals slightly over 12 months will not be split, but no more so than within the current system, and with huge advantages for everyone involved.
“We are confident it provides Europe with the food safety requirements that they dictate.”
While the two lead organisations continue to push for reform of the EU rules on TSEs and carcase splitting, they believe more immediate gains can be made by changing the UK implementation of the rules.
An FSA spokesperson said: ‘The FSA accepts that a calendar date would present better financial certainty for farmers sending stock to slaughterhouses.
“Given the lack of sheep birth records, under the regulations, mouthing of sheep has to date been the only method recognised as meeting the requirements of EU law.
“Providing we can assure food safety and still meet EU legal requirements, we are certainly open to new ways of looking at this issue based on evidence presented to us by the industry.”
Mr Stocker said: “We still have a long way to go with this, and over the coming months NSA and NFU will be working hard, with help from FSA, to develop an approach which UK Ministers can support for implementing a new system that benefits the whole food chain.”
The NFU-NSA proposal was supported by Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland, Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, British Meat Processors Association, Eblex, Farmers Union of Wales, Hybu Cig Cymru, Livestock Auctioneers Association, NFU Cymru, NFU Scotland, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Sheep Veterinary Society and Ulster Farmers Union.
Officials in Defra, Scottish Government, Welsh Government and DARD in Northern Ireland, as well as the Food Standards Agency in all four nations, also welcomed the initiative.