Thursday 29 September 2016

Viewpoint: What has carcase weight got to do with quality meat?

Published 15/03/2016 | 02:30

A Belgian farmer leads his cow outside the European Union agriculture ministers meeting as farmers protest against low selling prices. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
A Belgian farmer leads his cow outside the European Union agriculture ministers meeting as farmers protest against low selling prices. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Farm incomes, or the lack of them, is an issue that was at the heart of yesterday's tense meeting of EU agriculture ministers to discuss the crisis in the dairy and pigmeat sectors.

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Even as prices have dropped, farmers have jumped through hoops, signing up and taking on more and more checks and paperwork to persuade consumers of the quality of milk or meat on shop shelves.

Farmers have pointed out that despite the focus on quality and traceability, the prices simply haven't kept pace.

One farmer informed me that in 1988 a good bullock would fetch IR£1,000, (€1,270) from the factories.

Yet, now despite signing up to the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme for beef and lambs, he more often than not fares far worse at the factory gate.

It is a sentiment that you hear repeatedly at farm meetings, including the at times heated IFA election hustings.

Many are querying why they are not seeing more benefits in their pocket from the Origin Ireland QA mark for delivering a premium product.

Farmers are well aware of the importance of quality assurance to attract consumers, yet they simply want a commonsense approach to reduce the stresses of the inspection process.

This is why there have been many issues raised over the ongoing review of the Bord Bia beef and lamb QA scheme which some farmers fear is becoming too aligned with factory interests.

The draft discussion paper for the new revised scheme contains a background reference to EU retail markets preferring carcasses between 300 and 380kg. Understandably, this has set off alarm bells at a time when farmers are facing cuts for heavier carcasses.

Despite the understanding that it is unlikely to make it into the final document there are concerns about the influence of processors' aspirations on the quality issue.

It has left many querying exactly what weight has to do with quality meat?

The suggestion that stock of a certain vintage - be it cows, bulls or rams - may not be accepted as quality assured, even if it comes from a QA farm, has also raised hackles as it would hit prices hard.

There is also a recommendation that all lambs sold from the farm must be tagged with an electronic tag. Once again it is unlikely to make the final document. But it is the spirit of the proposal that raises concerns as it would save monies for the meat industry yet drive farmers' costs up by €1 per lamb.

Overall, it is likely the new beef and lamb scheme will mirror the dairy scheme by allowing farmers a period of time to keep their QA certs while dealing with any inspection issues.

All sides recognise that a strong scheme is needed as a marketing tool promoting our clean green image, particularly at a time of market turbulence. But it is essential that we have a commonsense scheme that maintains the trust between all sides.

Indo Farming

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