BSE cost plans under fire

Abattoirs will be charged for the analysis of BSE samples and farmers will have to pay for the collection of older fallen stock under new regulations announced by Defra.

From January next year, abattoirs will be charged for the analysis of BSE samples from January 2009, adding around £15 per cattle beast to costs. Defra will also seek to recover costs for a proportion of MHS costs, in association with work on OTM animals, although it has reduced the proposed amount from £3.8m to around £0.2m.

Stuart Roberts, director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), said his members were "disappointed" that Defra would charge industry for BSE sample testing. "This is a particular blow, as it comes on the back of the recent increase in MHS charges announced by the Food Standards Agency due to the exchange rate changes over the last 12 months," he said.

He added that while the BMPA was also disappointed that industry would be expected to pay towards MHS costs associated OTM cattle in future, it was pleased the proposed contribution had been reduced.

Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers president Allan Jess said that Defra's announcement "could have been worse, but not much". Jess said he suspected that the proportion of MHS costs of testing OTM animals that industry was expected to pay would escalate in subsequent years.

"These decisions take no account of the industry's ability to absorb yet more swingeing costs," he said. "The only conclusion we can come to is that Defra has no regard whatsoever for the sustainability of the abattoir and meat processing sector."

The free collection and disposal service for adult cattle that have died or been killed on farm over 24 months will also end in January. Defra said that £2m of transitional funding will be made available to the National Fallen Stock Com-pany for a year, to help farmers meet these additional costs.

NFU Scotland vice-president Nigel Miller said: "This is farmers' first taste of cost and responsibility sharing and it will leave them feeling bitter. Collecting and testing such animals is an EU requirement, as it underpins consumer confidence in beef and we believe Defra should have continued to fund the entire package on that basis."