Beef producers are campaigning to reduce the age where beef is classified as beef in a move which could raise millions in profitability.
An outdated age definition sets the beef industry at a significant disadvantage compared to the poultry and pork sectors, an industry body warns.
Both poultry and pork production systems are able to finish stock earlier, and yet still be classified as pork or chicken.
Beef is not in this situation, however, as bovine are classified as veal, rather than beef, up to 12-months of age, the National Beef Association (NBA) highlights.
Updating the sector's regulatory definitions to reflect improvements in production systems and genetics could also raise millions for producers while delivering environmental benefits, it says.
Improved production systems now mean that cattle are often finished well before this 12-month mark, but must be held, and often subsequently go out of spec.
The NBA is campaigning to reduce the age where beef is classified as beef to reflect these advancements.
It wishes to see beef classified as beef from 8 months of age.
NBA chief executive, Chris Mallon said: “The regulation for the organisation of the market in beef and veal was introduced back in 1968 by the EC, introducing a distinction between adult bovine and calves.
“This was not for consumer information, but to allow different rules of intervention, as calves and adult cattle received different levels of payment.
“What this means, is that beef production is held back by definitions that are out of date, and were not designed for production, but for subsidy payments which no longer exist.”
Many beef systems now have cattle ready under 12-months and the ability to shift these cattle earlier will raise the profitability of the UK beef industry by millions of pounds every year, regardless of breed, Mr Mallon said.
“It would improve farm profits thanks to reduced feed, bedding and labour costs associated with each animal.
“It would also increase the turnover of cattle on beef units, helping farmers increase production and potentially add significant sums to their bottom lines.
“An additional advantage of younger production systems will be reduced greenhouse gas emissions per animal,” he said.