Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) is one of many industry bodies to have urged the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to exercise caution over the cessation of the Over 30 Months Scheme (OTMS). The scheme, which has been in place since 1996, has resulted in the destruction of about six million older cattle because of the possible link between BSE and the human disease variant CJD.
While QMS wants to see beef from older cattle back in the food chain in the foreseeable future, it is clear that the issue needs to be handled carefully to allay public health fears.
The implementation of the OTMS has cost the Treasury about £400 million a year. This expense could be significantly reduced if all cattle born after 1 August 1996 were allowed to enter the food chain.
QMS however wants the destruction scheme to be retained for animals born before 1 October 1998. The organisation believes that there are weaknesses in the cattle identification and traceability data that need to be rectified.
QMS chairman Jim Walker conducted a survey on his own cattle and found that of 86 animals born between 1 August, 1996 and 30 September,1998, 11 cows had serious identification errors.
The danger is that public confidence in beef could collapse, resulting in a drop in the value of younger cattle.
QMS' position is supported by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) Scotland, which also believes that a gradual approach would best serve both the industry and consumers. The union proposes that only cattle born after 1 January 2000 should be allowed to enter the food chain.
This would the industry to gauge consumer reaction and allow every aspect of the beef industry to be properly tested and analysed.