'Change EU rules which cost sheep industry £23m'

12:10pm Friday 27th June 2014

EURO MPs have been asked to scrap an unnecessary EU regulation which costs UK sheep farmers £23m a year.

The National Sheep Association (NSA) published a report on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) earlier this year, and came up with the true cost of the BSE hangover to the sheep sector.

Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, said: "NSA thoroughly investigated the cost of TSE regulations, and specifically the requirement to split carcases of older lambs and sheep, and found it costs the UK sheep sector more than £23m a year.

"The regulations causing this phenomenal and unnecessary cost were a result of the BSE crisis back in the 1990s, but the differences between BSE in cattle and TSEs (scrapie) in sheep means the rules around sheep were never based in scientific fact.

"The biggest frustration for lamb producers has come in recent years when BSE cattle legislation has been relaxed but sheep farmers have been apparently forgotten and continue to carry a huge regulatory and financial burden."

TSE rules laid down by Europe require carcases to be split and the spinal cord removed if lambs are old enough to have their first pair of permanent teeth.

It creates costs in auction markets where teeth have to be checked for, in abattoirs by slowing down the slaughter line to split carcases, and in processing facilities by devaluing the carcase because it is not whole. NSA says this amounts to more than £23m a year, which is directly or indirectly passed back to the farmer.

The figure does not include the value of export markets currently closed to the UK because of the negative connotations of having TSE regulations in place.

Mr Stocker said: "The rules suggest the presence of disease when in fact the exact opposite is true.

"With more than one-third of UK-produced lamb already sold to Europe and around the world, maintaining and growing this export market is vital in ensuring the sheep sector continues to contribute to the British economy in a very meaningful way."

Voters had given a clear mandate to revisit the relationship between UK and Europe.

Mr Stocker said: "NSA strongly believes the reassessment of burdensome regulations such as those surrounding TSEs would go a long way towards removing the negative elements of our relationship with the EU.

"Many positive things come out of Europe, and UK sheep farmers would certainly not want to lose access to the single market, but we have to move away from a situation where regulations passed by Europe quickly become set in stone when it is vital they evolve as and when new evidence and science is developed, ensuring they are always based on risk and fact."

The NSA report makes five recommendations, from relaxation of TSE legislation through to removal of the need to split carcases.

It has been endorsed by Patrick Wall, associate Professor of Public Health in University College Dublin's School of Public Health and Population Sciences, and former chairman of the European Food Safety Authority.

He said food safety regulations need to be based on accurate risk assessment and be proportionate to the risk to human health.

"There is now sufficient scientific evidence to warrant a dramatic review of the TSE controls in sheep," he said, "Concerns regarding the public health threat that might emerge associated with TSE sheep no longer exists."

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