The Farmers’ Union of Wales’ has welcomed a UK Government consultation which would see an alternative method of ageing sheep at slaughter for the purpose of removing specified risk material.
The consultation proposes to allow a cut-off date to be used when ageing sheep as an alternative to the current method of ageing by dentition. In sheep, ageing by dentition is deemed inaccurate as incisors can develop between 9 months and 15 months of age. Nevertheless, all sheep with two permanent incisors erupted are considered to be over 12 months of age and the carcase must be split causing significant losses. The use of a cut-off date allows any lambs born in the previous year and submitted to slaughter before this date to be deemed under 12 months of age.
Under this alternative system, sheep producers will have much greater certainty on the price received for lambs and this is important for a sector which already suffers from low margins. APHA has already confirmed that this change would not compromise existing food safety or result in any additional risks to either human or animal health.
According to data from the National Sheep Association (NSA), the average loss of revenue caused by the current ageing system is estimated to be around £22 million. A further study conducted by EBLEX and the NSA estimated that the cost of dentition to British auction markets is almost £650,000.
The FUW welcomes the changes proposed but remains concerned at the lack of any definitive timeline for their introduction. The alternative ageing method proposed had previously been agreed at both a UK and EU level in November 2018. Indeed the proposal was confirmed by the then Farming Minister, George Eustice, and was followed by confirmation from DEFRA that the change would be implemented in June 2019.
Given the financial and administrative costs to the sheep sector of further delay, the FUW believes that it that maintaining the status quo would be wholly unacceptable and that the alternative method of ageing sheep should be established promptly.