The 24-month rule for the meat handling process is having a seriously disruptive impact on the pre-Christmas market, particularly the traditional supply of bone-in roasts, according to the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).
SAMW also said that repeated calls to the Food Standards Agency (FSA) for help in developing a practical and workable approach to the current situation have been met by a "massive lack of urgency" on the FSA's part.
"The poor, confused and inconsistent implementation of this measure and the thoroughly inadequate level of communication which we've been offered has left us angry and frustrated at the way in which our members' businesses are been damaged at this crucial point in the year," said SAMW president Allan Jess.
The handling process involves the EU requirement for the vertebral column to be removed from carcases of beef cattle aged 24-30 months, a measure introduced in May this year during the restoration of British beef exports. Jess added that, for the 10 years prior to May, the removal age requirement on meat supplied, perfectly safely, to British consumers was 30 months. "Although the majority of member states support the 30-month dateline, the process of shifting EU legislation to that point is proving laborious. In fact, after original hopes that the issue would be corrected long before now, the latest timetable from Brussels suggests the matter will run well into 2007."
The situation is further complicated by the way in which the measure is being implemented in the UK, especially in regard to the requirement for meat under this regulation to be subject to just one move between slaughter and processing. Traditionally, many retail butchers buy bone-in cuts from a wholesaler, completing retail cutting themselves. This, according to UK interpretation, does not fit with the EU regulation.
The net result is that the potential supply of bone-in Christmas roasts is effectively being restricted to under-24 month cattle, redu-cing supplies this year by more than 50% in comparison to the position that existed in 2004.