Meat processors hope for EU reprieve on requirement to remove vertebral column

Meat processors are hoping the EU will agree to defer vertebral column removal of cattle aged 30 months or over by the end of this year.

The industry has been working with the Food Standards Agency to achieve this as it

believes poor demand in cattle of this age will push up prices for younger animals.

The EU Scientific Advisory Committee on BSE has looked into the matter and said it is safe to leave backbone in cattle aged 30 months or over, said Alistair Donaldson, chief executive of the Scottish Meat Wholesalers

Association. "BSE tends to come in cattle at the age of five."

He added that the EU had asked EFSA for its opinion and this would be published in September or October.

Prior to the reopening of the beef export market, the UK carried out vertebral removal in cattle aged 30 months. One of the conditions the EU imposed on agreeing to lift the beef export ban was the UK had to meet European protocol which required meat processors to only sell deboned beef from cattle aged over 24 months to butchers, unless the butchers were authorised to remove vertebral column.

Donaldson believes this is responsible for the recent

increased demand for cattle under 24 months which has led to a surge in prices.

A recent QMS survey looked at cattle prices in auction markets and identified the price differential between cattle aged under 24 months and those over that age was 10p a kilo at live weight - around £60 a carcase, said Donaldson.

He also expressed concern that there has been little uptake of

authorisation by butchers to receive bone-in beef from cattle aged 24-30 months. "They need to be given more encouragement to apply for authorisation," said Donaldson. "Unless that is done trade in animals aged 24-30 months will be disrupted."

A spokesperson for the FSA said: "In negotiations last year, the UK argued strongly for a 30 month threshold for the removal of vertebral column across the EU, on the basis of a risk assessment which indicated that any lowering of the age limit would have negligible beneficial effect.

"We understand the Commission intends to review the 24-month age limit, assuming the number of BSE cases declines, and we will continue to lobby strongly for an early review."