The proposed changes would allow abattoirs to use a different method for deciding the ages of sheep.
Under the proposals, abattoirs would also have the option of a system based on the date, with sheep sent for slaughter up to 30 June in the year after their birth being treated as being under 12 months old.
Currently, abattoirs count the number of a sheep’s permanent teeth to decide its age. Under the new process, lambs born a year before they are presented for slaughter would not routinely be tooth-checked.
This would potentially enable the meat industry to take advantage of last year’s amendment to the EU TSE Regulation that allows Member States to approve a different method for estimating whether a lamb is aged over twelve months for the purpose of removing the skull and spinal cord.
The process, Removal of Specified Risk Material (SRM), is the key public health measure to keep potentially TSE infected material out of the human food chain. Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) are fatal brain diseases which include Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and scrapie in sheep and goats.
On the proposals, a Defra spokesperson said: “We are working closely with partners on introducing an optional alternative method of sheep ageing whilst maintaining the UK’s hard earned and world leading standards of biosecurity and animal health.
“Ministers are aware of the concerns from the sheep sector on this matter. That is why we are today launching a joint consultation with the Food Standards Agency and the Welsh Government on whether to introduce this optional alternative method of sheep ageing and on the detail of proposed implementation. We would encourage people to participate in the consultation and will consider all responses carefully.”