Farm leaders have called on newly elected MEPs to push for the abolition of ‘burdensome’ rules which require the carcases of older lambs and sheep to be split and the spinal cord removed.
The transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) rules were introduced in 1996 in the wake of the BSE crisis.
They require the carcases of lambs and sheep to be split and the spinal cord removed if the lambs are old enough to have their first pair of permanent teeth.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) said the true cost of the “BSE hangover” to the sheep sector was around £23million 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 were never based in scientific fact,” said NSA chief executive Phil Stocker.
“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 financial burden.”
The NSA said the rules created unnecessary costs throughout the whole supply chain, with animals having to be checked at auction for teeth, abattoirs having to slow down the slaughter line to split carcases, and processing facilities devaluing carcases because they are not whole.
Mr Stocker said the rules also had a knock-on effect on export trade because the rules suggest the presence of disease when it was not there.
“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,” added Mr Stocker.
He said the results from the recent European elections highlighted a growing wish to revisit the relationship between the UK and Europe.
“The 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,” added Mr Stocker.
“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.”
Earlier this year, the NSA published a report on the TSE rules outlining different options on tackling the issue from relaxing the legislation right through to removing the need to split carcases.
The report was endorsed by Patrick Wall – an associate professor of public health at the University College Dublin and former chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority and former chairman of the European Food Safety Authority.
Mr Wall said: “There is now sufficient scientific evidence to warrant a dramatic review of the TSE controls in sheep.
“Concerns regarding the public health threat that might emerge associated with TSE sheep no longer exist so public funds devoted to TSE controls in sheep should be reallocated to other areas in the food chain where there is a real, rather than a perceived, risk to human health to deliver benefits in terms of consumer protection.”
NFU Scotland and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers are also backing NSA’s calls for an end to the TSE rules.