Ireland’s BSE status should have no bearing on the age limit applied for the purposes of the prime beef specification grid, according to Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) General Secretary Eddie Punch.

“The working assumption seems to be that the suspected animal, taken off the farm in Co Louth, may well be confirmed as a positive BSE case next week,” he said.

“And, if this happens, Ireland will be downgraded from a negligible to controlled status classification. This is disappointing as a standalone matter. But it has absolutely no linkage to the 30-month age limit for prime cattle.

“The fact remains that the 30-month issue was introduced on an arbitrary basis and has no grounding in terms of the quality beef produced from older cattle. It is a meaningless distinction. The cow suspected of contracting BSE was 5 years old. So there is absolutely no linkage between the issues of BSE and beef quality. ”

Punch also pointed out that the meat plants have absolutely no grounds to reduce cattle prices, given this week’s BSE-related developments.

“I would be totally shocked if the factories blatantly used BSE as a means of cutting producer prices,” he said.

“A move of this kind is totally inconceivable, given current circumstances. Cattle are scarce at the present time and the factories are actively looking for supplies. I am hearing that heifers are now fetching up to €4.40/kg, that’s up 20c on this time last week.

“Supply and demand should be the only factors determining producer returns during the period ahead. Steer, heifer and bull prices have all risen this week at the factories.”