Defra has confirmed plans to use a fixed cut-off date of 30 June to age lambs instead of checking teeth, in a move that could potentially save producers and the supply chain an estimated £24 million.

The new cut-off date will be implemented in time for June 2019 and will provide a much simpler and more accurate way for farmers, market operators and abattoir operators to determine whether a lamb is over 12 months old, and whether the carcass needs to be split to remove the spinal cord.

NFU livestock board chairman Richard Findlay said: “The NFU and other industry organisations, including those representing the devolved nations, have long been urging government to implement a simpler and more accurate system of ageing lambs.

“We welcome the news of a cut-off date as it will mean no mouthing of sheep and no splitting of carcasses – which can unnecessarily devalue carcasses by as much as 40% – before the 30 June.

“This change will enable the industry to cease dentition checks entirely, providing a far more precise way to age lambs at the time of slaughter and potentially adding millions of pounds of value to the industry.”

Industry assessments calculated that the system of teeth checking was costing the UK sheep industry in excess of £24 million a year, the main costs coming from mouthing sheep to check for tooth eruption, and a loss of carcass value when teeth had erupted.

Carcass splitting and the removal of specified risk material (SRM) is a result of the BSE crisis of the late 1990s, when there were thought to be possible risks of links between BSE in cattle and human TSEs, and Scrapie in sheep.