'Don't hold farmers to ransom over clean cattle initiative' - ICSA
Published 02/08/2016 | 02:30
The clean cattle initiative cannot become a "stick to beat farmers on price," the ICSA has warned.
In a direct challenge to the Department of Agriculture and Meat Industry Ireland (MII), the drystock farmers' group ruled out the imposition of penalties on farmers under the initiative.
Edmond Phelan, ICSA beef committee chairman, pointed out that farmer returns from beef could not carry cuts for what were deemed unclean cattle.
He said farmers had a somewhat jaundiced view of the factories' motives on the issue of dirty livestock.
"Cattle are always clean when they are scarce but factories impose clipping charges when they were plentiful," Mr Phelan commented.
However, the recent Beef Forum was told by a senior Department of Agriculture official that the incidence of dirty cattle at slaughter could potentially disrupt exports of Irish manufacturing beef to the US.
The protection of the lucrative markets for cattle hides and sheep fleeces to outlets in China was also cited as a reason for the increased focus on cleaner cattle and sheep at slaughter.
The Department is reviewing its clean livestock policy and has held talks with industry stakeholders on the matter.
"ICSA is adamant that no farmer would willingly produce dirty cattle but it is clear that the diet of cattle is very much determined by the tight margins," Mr Phelan pointed out.
"We need to see Teagasc doing research into why some cattle are cleaner than others. Factors such as diet and housing systems need to be looked at," he added. IFA national livestock chairman Angus Woods claimed that Department data clearly pointed to a small number of producers and a small number of cattle with an issue.
Mr Woods said IFA would continue to work with industry partners on the matter.
However, IFA sheep chairman John Lynskey accused some processors of "jumping the gun with talk of severe penalties and a Department clampdown".
"The Department has made it clear to IFA that this is not the case," Mr Lynskey said.
Meanwhile, Meat Industry Ireland said dirty livestock posed serious challenges for the proper dressing of carcases.
The processor organisation insisted that having cattle and sheep presented in a cleaner fashion for slaughter was essential for both livestock producers and processors.