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Customers demand controversial 30-month age limit on cattle - draft independent report

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Cattle being unloaded from a trailer. Photo: James Tracy

Cattle being unloaded from a trailer. Photo: James Tracy

Cattle being unloaded from a trailer. Photo: James Tracy

Evidence of “strong market demand” for cattle slaughtered under 30 months of age has been identified across foodservice, retail and third country markets, according to a draft independent report. 

The finding was presented to the Beef Taskforce as part of a Department of Agriculture commissioned review into market and customer requirements relating to the four ‘in spec’ bonus criteria currently in operation in the Irish beef sector. The requirements became a significant bone of contention between primary producers and meat processors during the beef protests of 2019.

The draft analysis, seen by the Farming Independent, examined these criteria in the context of market requirements in the Republic and internationally in key UK, EU and third country markets.

Although the genesis of 30-month age limit for slaughtering Irish beef dates back to the BSE crisis of the late 1990s, the report – conducted by Grant Thornton – found that “customers are demanding animals under 30 months”.

“There is a growing body of evidence that supports the claims that slaughtering under 30 months has environmental benefits associated with it,” the document states.

The taskforce was also informed of “a significant market demand” for animals to come from quality assured farms.

“The Bord Bia Sustainable Beed and Lamb Assurance Scheme is held in high regard by many customers and is a key requirement for current trade.”

However, there was “some ambiguity” reported in relation to the four movement rule - specifically in relation to stakeholder interpretation of the requirement.

“Some stakeholders identify a residency as a change in ownership and herd number, while others claimed that it was being interpreted as a movement of animal, for example, to and from the mart.

“The rationale for this requirement can be inherently linked to animal welfare and a desire to reduce movement related stress in animals.”

However, some customers placed “no such requirement” on animals in their supply chain.

“A cohort of customers stated that while this is a criterion that they have a strong preference for, they did not see a need to specify it as a requirement because their supply base was already providing animals with fewer than four residencies.”

While the report’s authors say that effort was made to reach a representative cohort of stakeholders for the consultation process, it is also noted that progress “was hampered” by the “unavailability” of some stakeholders.

“Consultations were held with a wide range of stakeholders in Ireland and the UK across the processor and retailer segments, however only a small amount of consultations were conducted across the EU market, and with the food services and food manufacturing representatives. Further limitations were noted in relation to engaging third country authorities.

It is understood that the full independent review of the market and customer requirements of Irish beef is at an advanced stage. The draft report has been given to taskforce members for comment.

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