UK - The British government is working to increase the competitiveness of the sheep sector while at the same time reducing the burdens of red tape and regulation.
This was the pledge from farm minister George Eustice in opening the Sheep 2014 event at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern today, Wednesday.
In helping to reduce the burden of regulation, Mr Eustice said that the government would be attempting to change EU regulations on the requirement to split sheep carcases because of health and food safety regulations over concerns about Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies.
The regulation, had been brought in by the European Commission because of concerns that BSE could be transmitted to sheep, is damaging the market and devaluing the carcase.
The regulation is particularly damaging to the hogget market.
Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association said that the regulation is costing the British sheep industry £23.5 million a year.
“There is no evidence of BSE in sheep and scrapie is not a risk to humans,” Mr Stocker said.
However, Mr Eustice said that while the government will be working to find a solution to the problem he did not hold out hope for an early change to the TSE regulations..
He said that the European Food Safety Authority had examined the regulations in 2010 and he said it would take a great effort to persuade the EU to change the regulation.
However, together with the sheep sector and the National Sheep Association, the government is to investigate the prospect of introducing procedures used in France and Spain on older sheep to keep the carcase entire.
Among the measure that could be taken are the use of suction to remove the spinal cord in the abattoir.
But, Mr Eustice said the processing sector is not keen of the practice because of potential damage to the carcase.
“But seeing the losses to the farmers, it is something we must look into,” he said.
Mr Eustice added: “Carcase splitting can devalue the carcase and we are looking to introduce changes to allow practices that take place in France and Spain to happen here too.”
The National Sheep Association and the government is also looking at changing the way that the age of sheep is assessed, rather than examination of the teeth.
And a system of establishing a single birth date for sheep – probably in June – has been put forward to standardise the assessment and help reduce the need to split older lamb carcases.
“Changing the age without changing the EU regulation is a win-win situation” said NSA chairman John Geldard.
“We need the simplest and most economic way forward.”
At the opening ceremony Mr Eustice also said that the government would be looking at easing regulations to allow sheep movements in a 10 mile radius to take place without official recording, because of the ability to log sheep through the new EID tags.
He added that the farmer should not be penalised at the slaughterhouse because of potential errors at the livestock market.