'Over the Gate' with Jeff Swift:

By Jeff Swift

Removal of OTM 'makes you think'

THE big news last week on the farming front has to be the suggestion (I have no idea whether this news was leaked or not) that the rule known as OTM was perhaps about to be removed. I say perhaps because I can't discover if this is a certainty or not.

OTM is short for Over Thirty Months and refers to the rule that decrees all cattle over the age of 30 months shall not be allowed into the food chain but will be taken for destruction. That is why they were often called burners. Compensation was paid and that was the last you heard of them.

The reason for their removal from the food chain was to guard against catching CJD or VCJD from eating beef that may possibly have come from an animal that had BSE. That is the view of one group of scientists. The aim was unquestionably a worthy one because CJD is a most tragic disease and we must never forget that.

It has to be said, however, that although their aim was worthy, that does not mean they were right in their conclusions. In the view of many people, scientists among them, BSE did not come from cattle eating animal feed that contained meat and bone meal. Because this meal could have also contained remains from sheep infected with scrapie (a brain disease of sheep that has been around for more than 300 years), the first group of scientists made the assumption that BSE came from scrapie sheep (thus jumping a species).

As I say, this is what they thought but thinking isn't proving. They have certainly never proved their theory to my satisfaction.

I remember the days when people bought sheep's heads for a tanner (six old pence or 2 p) each and boiled the whole head brains and all to make a cheap nutritious meal of "sheep's head broth". Was there an epidemic of CJD? Not as far as I know.

Readers of this column will know that my colours are nailed firmly to the mast when I say that I do not accept the theory that people can catch the equivalent of BSE through eating beef. I believe BSE arose as a consequence of using organophosphate chemicals and their associates. I know of farmers who can't go into a shippon where OP fly strips are in use without getting a headache after a very few minutes. Oh, and I ought to tell you that the government last year withdrew either 39 or 47 products containing chemicals like OP. I forgot which number is correct. My memory does not mend, but I tell you this, I won't be taking any OP for it.

I have already told you about, how some years ago, schoolchildren in various places when found to be infested with head lice were treated by having organophosphorus type creams rubbed into their scalps. This sister of a friend of mine - who trained as a nurse at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital - was horrified when she found out, saying "a child's cranium is extremely delicate and that sort of treatment would be the worst you could give". Think about it and then think about the "clusters" in different parts of the country.

Far cleverer people than me subscribe to the theory that BSE came from OP and a strain of manganese that can upset the balance of trace elements. If this is ever proved beyond doubt, would not some people in high places be for the high jump? I'm saying nowt, but it makes you think.

Removing over 30 month beef has been expensive and also very wasteful. A great many of the "burners" came from herds that have never had a case of BSE and many of these were specially bred beef animals. However, that is in the past and we must move on.

There is one worry about lifting the OTM rule and that is if it were done suddenly, without thought. Such a large quantity coming onto the market at once would undoubtedly cause the market to collapse.

The lifting must be well thought out and phased in gradually.

Dialect word: Moudy meaning mole.