Slaughterhouses could destroy 30,000 cattle a week under a planned BSE cull with the beasts being dismembered to remove possible infected parts and the carcasses ground to a pulp and buried in landfill sites.
Under Government proposals, abattoirs would remove the head, spinal cord, intestines and spleen for incineration. The rest of the carcass, not considered to be at risk of BSE, would be reduced to a form of fine mincemeat and buried. The procedures are a means of getting around the chronic shortage of incineration units.
The plans were laid out yesterday at a meeting of European agriculture officials. After day-long talks on the logistics of the disposal of older cows the meeting broke up last night without agreement.
However, a meeting of the beef management committee in Brussels approved the compensation package for farmers. The destruction could begin in a few weeks after the go-ahead was given to the Luxembourg agreement last week to keep all cattle older than 30 months out of the food chain.
Under the scheme, farmers will receive an average of about pounds 450 per animal, more than pounds 300 of it paid for by Brussels. The figure is based on payment set at 80p a live kilo.
The Agriculture Minister, Douglas Hogg, said last night the committee had taken "an important step towards getting the industry back on its feet. This is the scheme we persuaded our partners was necessary to reassure consumers and help the industry on the way to recovery".
Sir David Naish, president of the National Farmers' Union, said the decision was a first step in providing a proper compensation scheme for older cattle. "But I am urging the Government to take appropriate action in the next few days to compensate those farmers who have prime beef animals over 30 months old."
Labour's agriculture spokesman, Gavin Strang, said: "It will be a disaster if Douglas Hogg ends up having to offer to slaughter hundreds of thousands of cows in order to secure a lifting of the beef ban. We have got to secure a sensible European approach."
It is now thought that 30,000 cattle a week will have to be destroyed in the short term, double the number thought necessary a week ago. For around three months the Government will not be able to limit the destruction to the 15,000 normally slaughtered every week at the end of their productive life owing to the backlog of up to 100,000 old cows and a further 100,000 younger animals more than 30 months old awaiting slaughter on farms.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food confirmed the logistics proposals placed on the negotiating table in Brussels. She stressed that the only carcasses to be entirely incinerated would be confirmed or suspected BSE cases. The nine incineration plants licensed to destroy cattle can cope with 3,000 carcasses a week.
However, officials were tight-lipped on the compensation package drawn up for other parts of the industry. Renderers, who specialise in processing animal waste, have already been told they are to receive pounds 112m a year to make up for the loss of business in bonemeal for animal feed and beef products such as gelatin.
Slaughterhouses have been offered a pounds 53m package. But the abattoirs want compensation for unsaleable stocks worth more than pounds 70m, at present in store as a result of the collapse in the UK beef market. Peter Scott, director of the Federation of Fresh Meat Wholesalers, representing 85 per cent of 450 slaughterhouses in Britain, said that without compensation the majority will go under.
Meanwhile, the federation yesterday said it would reject a European offer to buy up thousands of tons of unwanted beef, which came out of the talks in Brussels. The NFU called the lack of UK interest in the offer astonishing and disappointing.
Other European countries are selling thousands of tons of beef into storage while UK meat traders are selling just 140 tons. Under a price with the EU's beef management committee of pounds 220 per 100 kilos, other countries have jumped at the chance to guarantee a return on their beef in the midst of consumer doubts rather than take a gamble on a market upturn. France sold nearly 2,500 tons of beef while Germany is handing over more than 4,000 tons.
Mr Scott said with more than half the beef supplies possibly being taken out of the system, Britain will be short of beef: "Therefore it makes no sense at all to start taking the best quality beef away from the housewife and putting it into deep- freeze."Reuse content