I have been exploring the possibility of joining the 'Beef Assurance Scheme'. 
 
 This is a scheme which confirms that the likelihood of any of my cattle having BSE is vanishingly small. 
 
 [No cases of BSE in our herd, ever; no cases in any herd from which animals have been bought in; no feed containing meat and bonemeal ever fed to our cattle, regular inspections by SVS vets. etc.] 
 
Consequently, animals in the scheme are allowed be killed for human consumption up to an age of 42 months. 
 
The reason for wanting to be able to keep animals for human consumption more than 30 months is that most of the traditional British breeds which can be fattened on grass, don't mature untill they are over 30 months old. 
 
To grow an animal to its full 'killing weight' in 30 months probably requires that it is fed concentrates. 
 
 Ironically, the 'official' explanation of the origin of BSE is that it was introduced by feeding concentrates containing meat and bonemeal.  We are a 'organic' farm and prefer to feed our cattle only grass or, in winter,  hay or silage.
 
The glossy brochure explaining the scheme sent by the 'Rural Payments Agency', explains in detail how, when your herd is in the scheme and one of your animals is sent for slaughter for human consumption, your Divisional Veterinary Manager will issue a certificate confirming the animal's 'status' - that it is safe to be killed for human consumption. 
 
 Logic would lead one to expect that the animal thus supervised and vouched for could be killed in your local abattoir, alongside all the less assured animals which must be killed before they are 30 months old.
 
Not a bit of it! 
 
 Our trusty bureaucrats still have to be bound by EU directives which treat over 30 month old cattle as 'high risk'. 
 
After killing your 'assured' animal, the abattoir must clean down the killing line before killing any other animal and it must hold your animal's carcass separate while samples from it are sent for testing. 
 
An advisor in the Meat and Livestock Commission told me that after a change in the regulations by DEFRA, there are effectively only two abattoirs in the whole of the UK licenced to kill Beef Assurance Scheme Animals. 
 
 I was also told that our wonderful Food Standards Agency has decided that after slaughter, the spinal column, which 'must' be removed, can only be removed in a specially licenced cutting plant.  I was told by my official informant that there is only one such cutting plant in the whole of the UK...  [ and I bet they don't do one-off jobs for small farms! - So much for the supporting by our government of good quality local food!!]
 
It took me about 10 'phone calls to different offices of DEFRA, the SVS, the MLC, the RPA, etc.to find this out.  Our local RPA and its 'Beef Assurance Scheme section didn't seem to be able to tell me anything. 
 
 Many of the persons I spoke to were audibly angry at the disorganisation and crude centralisation of DEFRA and at the poorly thought-out and poorly understood schemes and regulations they were called upon to administer.  I feel angry that the Beef Assurance Scheme is such a useless sham - and crushed by a sense of a weight of careless bureacracy - and impressed that all the staff I spoke to, telephonists included, are being paid much more than almost any farmer in the UK.
 
While I was making my enquiries, I also asked about the rumours that new regulations will prevent the burial on farm, of sheep that die on the farm. 
 
 An SVS vet said airily that they thought such a regulation might be brought in by April next year.  Another official from the MLC told me that it would be made compulsory to report all sheep which die on the farm to be collected, because the carcasses were wanted for the search for BSE in sheep... 
 
 [A report on BBC 'Farming Today' attributed an impending ban on burying sheep on farm to one of the dreaded 'EU Directives'.] 
 
 A DEFRA official in a London office has promised [this morning] to email documents explaining what is proposed; but he hasn't done so yet.  I find myself believing that the only thing to expect is that whatever will be proposed will not show any understanding.
 
Lawrence October 5th 2002