Sheep Splitting On Agenda In Brussels

11 February 2011
SNP MEP Alyn Smith has hosted a meeting in Brussels between the European Commission, NSA Scotland and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers on the vexed question of carcass splitting. 
This is a crucial economic issue for Scotland's sheep sector thanks to the necessity of removing the spinal cord from sheep over 12 months old, thereby usually splitting the carcass, and reducing the value of the end product.
The Commission assured the meeting that there is every willingness on the part of the Commission to increase the age at which this practice has to take place from the present 12 months, but that the Commission will act only on the strongest scientific advice, which presently states that the 12 month cut off point is the safest.  Smith has written to the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) asking for sight of the scientific advice, and to the UK reference laboratory for TSEs in Weybridge urging them to put fresh impetus to the research into what transmission risks are actually involved.
Speaking after the meeting, Smith said:
"As ever, this was a useful and constructive meeting with the Commission, and it helped shed some light on how we can move this issue forward.  Clearly the science has to be in charge of this process but, by the same token, when the science evolves we must ensure the legislation changes to reflect the best animal and human health advice and best economic interests of the sector.
"It was interesting that the issue of whether or not the sheep has grown teeth is not, in fact, the 'trigger point' for removal of the spinal cord: under the legislation it quite clearly states that it is whether or not the sheep has lived a calendar year.  Of course, when the animal actually grows teeth is a rather less exact affair.  However, as the admittedly imperfect EID database rolls forward we in Scotland will be able to tell the age of a sheep far more precisely, and so will be ready for a more precise targeting of when the animals are sent to slaughter should the time limits be extended as the science moves forward.
"We have already seen the proposals to substantially relax the rules on bovine TSEs as part of the TSE Roadmap, and today's meeting was useful in giving some focus and impetus to attempts to extend the 12 month period for sheep.  I have asked for further sight of the EFSA scientific advice, and am urging the UK reference lab to look into the area with renewed vigour."
George Milne, Development Officer for the NSA Scottish region, said:
"As a result of the meeting the key point is the age at which stage lamb carcasses must be split, and the scientific evidence present at the moment supports the age limit of 12 months. However, I would like to see the scientific evidence that shows that a lamb at 14 to 16 months shows any greater risk than that of 12 months. If this evidence cannot be provided then clearly there is a case to have the age limit extended which would avoid the huge financial loss to the whole industry as a result of splitting carcasses in the spring of the year."
SAMW Spokesman, Ian Anderson, added:
"The current arrangements seem disproportionate when you consider that BSE has been found in only one small ruminant, a French goat in 2002, and the risk assessment by the EU scientific panel was based on limited data. However, consumer safety is paramount and it is important that any changes to arrangements are based on the latest scientific information and the real risks emanating from that. The need to split the carcasses of sheep over 12 months old is very costly for the industry and we welcome this initiative to review the scientific data which underpins it in the hope that it will provide a basis for the EU Commission to review the current controls.”