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Beef Sector Disaster Avoided by Verdict in Peterhead Ear Tag Loss Trial 14/11/08

The National Beef Association (NBA) has called for commonsense and flexibility from both the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) and Trading Standards in all parts of the UK after an Aberdeenshire finisher was found not guilty of sending cattle to an abattoir without the mandatory two ear tags, during a Sherriff’s Court hearing at Peterhead, North East Scotland, this week.

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The farmer was charged with four offences under the EU cattle identification regulations after some of the cattle in the batches unloaded at A.K. Stoddart’s abattoir in February and March 2007, did not have the mandatory two tags still in their ears.

The defendant, whose advocate was Stephen O’Rourke of Terra Firma Chambers, Edinburgh, pleaded not guilty, saying that all sixteen animals had carried two ear tags when they were loaded onto the lorry.

And after hearing other evidence on behalf of the defendant, including important technical information from the NBA director Kim Haywood, Sherriff Garden dismissed all four charges saying that Trading Standards could not prove the cattle had been loaded from the holding with only one ear tag because an inspector would have to supervise the loading himself.

After the hearing Ms Haywood, who had assisted Mr O’Rourke with a number of pre-trial briefings, said a guilty verdict would have put every beef finisher in the UK in danger of prosecution every time an animal being transported to an abattoir lost an ear tag and this is a victory for common sense.

“A beef industry disaster has only been avoided because the Sherriff took a commonsense approach and made it clear that the only way Trading Standards could be successful with any further prosecution of this nature would be if they individually supervised the loading every time cattle bound for slaughter were put on a wagon,” she said.

“The NBA is aware of the interest Local Authorities in other parts of the UK have had in this case and hopes that instead of initiating an avalanche of similar prosecutions they will accept the Peterhead court’s precedent and acknowledge that it is impossible for all loading to be supervised by Trading Standards and equally impossible to avoid some ear tag loss while cattle are being transported.”

“Beef farmers understand the EU rule, introduced in January 1998, demanding that cattle arriving at an abattoir always carry two ear tags and do their best to comply with it because they do not want to see any of their stock refused access to the food chain because they have lost their identity.”

“However some tag loss is inevitable and so the NBA calls on MHS staff who check identification at abattoirs, and Trading Standards officials that are informed if a tag is missing, not to take an inflexible approach and initiate a court case, like this one, which should never have taken place.”

“All the cattle in the consignment in question entered the food chain and so the verdict, which was assisted through the combined efforts of the defendant, his advocate, the NBA, and representatives of A.K. Stoddart is of genuine importance for the UK beef industry and should prevent similar, baseless, prosecutions being launched by other Local Authorities in future,” Ms Haywood added.

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