Farming News - Ageing sheep at slaughter: introducing a new method

Ageing sheep at slaughter: introducing a new method

19 Sep 2019
Frontdesk / Livestock

Defra want your views on plans to amend English and Welsh legislation on ageing sheep at slaughter. Sheep over 12 months old must have certain body parts removed to protect public health.

The changes would allow abattoirs to use a different method for deciding the ages of sheep. At present abattoirs count the number of a sheep’s permanent teeth to decide its age.

Under Defra's proposal, they would also have the option of a system based on the date. Sheep sent for slaughter up to 30 June in the year after their birth would be treated as being under 12 months old.

A Defra spokesperson said:
“We are working closely with partners on introducing an optional alternative method of sheep ageing whilst maintaining the UK’s hard earned and world leading standards of biosecurity and animal health.
“Ministers are aware of the concerns from the sheep sector on this matter. That is why we are today launching a joint consultation with the Food Standards Agency and the Welsh Government on whether to introduce this optional alternative method of sheep ageing and on the detail of proposed implementation. We would encourage people to participate in the consultation and will consider all responses carefully.”
Background briefing:
  • The consultation to introduce an optional alternative method to ageing sheep for the purpose of removing Specified Risk Material can be found here:
  • This consultation proposes an amendment to English and Welsh legislation on Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs), which would permit the option of ageing sheep at slaughter by a means other than dentition for the purposes of removing Specified Risk Material (SRM). We are also consulting on the implementation protocol for this new optional ageing system.
  • The consultation will last six weeks and a response will be issued in due course.
  • Removal of Specified Risk Material (SRM) is the key public health measure to keep potentially TSE infected material out of the human food chain. Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies (TSEs) are fatal brain diseases which include Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and scrapie in sheep and goats.
  • The current system:
  • Lambs presented for slaughter are subject to existing domestic legislative arrangements. Animals aged over 12 months or with 1 permanent incisor erupted in the gum will be split and Specified Risk Material (SRM) removed.

The proposal:

  • We have been discussing an alternative process put forward by the industry.
  • Under this process, lambs born a year before they are presented for slaughter would not routinely be tooth-checked.
  • This would enable the industry to take advantage of last year’s amendment to the EU TSE Regulation that enables Member States to approve a different method for estimating whether a lamb is aged over twelve months for the purpose of removing the skull and spinal cord.