SCOTTISH FARMERS have condemned National Beef Association proposals to reduce the age of slaughter as an ‘outrageous’ move that promotes intensive farming.

The UK beef body had suggested that beef cattle should be slaughtered no later than the age of 27 months to reduce their climate impact and proposed an environmental tax of £100 per head of cattle on those who fail to comply.

Read more - Slaughter age row divides beef farmers

The NBA told the SF that their proposals would exempt native and rare breeds and cattle used for conservation grazing, but added that all livestock systems – including grass-based ones – have the knowledge and ability to look at reducing their killing age.

Kirkcudbright Belted Galloway breeder, Robert Graham, questioned whether the NBA still had a general mandate: “My opinion of NBA motives and effectiveness has reached a new low with their outrageous proposal to lower the slaughter age of beef to 27 months from 2025. The proposal being pushed infers that heifers should calve at two years old and steers and feeding heifers should all be finished and away up to three months sooner,” he continued.

“Two of the main aims of the NBA are to identify and promote the environmental benefits where appropriate of grazing cattle and maintain beef cattle in the uplands and the communities and landscapes that they sustain. Is this policy change driven to cover the uplands and above in trees and promote feedlot farming which has support within the NBA board? I suggest that an organisation that cannot adhere to its aims no longer has the power to govern.”

Robert Campbell, of Fife Dexters, said the proposals could penalise his operation: “We are an organic, certified grass-fed farm and our cattle thrive out on pasture, spending the winter in woodland and slowly fleshing out. Dexters grow slowly and only start improving after 27 months, which would be hugely inconvenient if these changes were to be introduced.

“These proposals might not impact commercial farmers, but there are an increasing number of people thinking more environmentally who are exploring native breeds and going organic and this would only penalise that way of thinking.”

Sam Parsons, Balcaskie Estate, Anstruther, where he has Luings and Lincoln Reds, said: “The NBA should be promoting a quality beef product and putting their energy behind grass sequestered carbon. To roll up and say we should kill earlier is more reactive than proactive,” he stressed.

“A lot of this has come from research on carbon audits which take no account of carbon sequestration in grass-fed beef, which has led to findings suggesting we should finish intensively. If finishing cattle earlier were to prove beneficial for the climate then it won’t be long until the age of slaughter decreases further and discussions are had around investing in laboratory-grown meat,” he warned.

Chair of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust Christopher Price added: “The NBA proposals fail to appreciate the future direction of travel which has to be high welfare, extensive, outdoor grazing so we are producing less meat but with lower input costs and the ability to charge higher prices for quality premium products,” he explained. “People need to be eating less meat whereas the thinking behind the NBA proposals appears to be more about maintaining the status quo.”

Mr Price accused the NBA of sidelining natives and treating them as ‘ornaments’ rather than productive cattle. “Native breeds, because of their low input costs, hardiness and cultural significance are an economic asset and farmers looking to the future should be thinking about how they can increase the use of native breeds in their core herd.”

Chief executive of the National Beef Association Neil Shand responded: “We are not trying to discriminate against any breed of cattle and understand that no one will come up with a system that fits perfectly. We are not promoting intensive cattle units or demoting extensive systems; however, we think our beef industry has the collective skills and genetics, alongside grass types and technologies out there to make a move to the left of the killing time frame.”

Commenting on increasing the UK beef herd he added: “We are trying to create a scenario to allow an increase in suckler herd cattle at home, produced to our high standards and reduce requirement for imported beef which comes with a high carbon footprint. If we can get carbon sequestration taken into account, we will have a stronger argument to increase our cattle numbers.”