Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

'Don't link factory spec with QA' warn farm leaders

ICSA president Patrick Kent.
ICSA president Patrick Kent.
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

Factory specs of animals should not be linked to the Bord Bia Quality Assurance scheme, farm leaders have warned. Concerns emerged after the issue of heavier carcasses was flagged in a discussion document for the technical group on the revised QA scheme.

The quality standards for beef and lamb are being revised as farmers have raised issues around aspects of the assurance scheme in recent months.

It is understood a discussion document on producer standards that was circulated to a technical group that includes farm bodies, Bord Bia officials and meat industry representatives, points out that the majority of EU retail markets for beef have a preference for carcasses between 300-380kg.

It points out that producers should ensure they have a sales outlet for heavier carcasses if producing cattle above this weight. This follows a recent move by meat factories to impose weight limits on carcasses after the moratorium on heavier cattle came to an end.

Patrick Kent of the ICSA, which does not have a position on the technical committee, has queried what weight has to do with the quality of the animals under the scheme.

"It does not appear in the producer standards book," he said, adding factories have been trying to rule out larger animals as supermarkets want cheaper and smaller steaks. "To put it in the document would give credence to the notion that a bigger steak is not quality."

However, it is understood that the contentious weights issue is unlikely to be contained in the final document.

After a meeting with Bord Bia, the ICSA said it was alarmed at suggestions that old cows, aged bulls and older rams may not be accepted as quality assured even if from a fully quality assured farm.

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"We will not accept any reference to age limits in any official document setting out rules for farmers," Mr Kent said.

A key issue that has been raised by farmers is that they can be excluded from the scheme for six months which can result in lower factory payments.

However, the ICMSA's Michael Guinan said they were confident the revised scheme will allow the farmer time to address minor issues.

"We've made proposals to Bord Bia around simplifying the process and reducing the time period for an inspection," he said. "Bord Bia need to make practical changes to the scheme that reflect reality."

Bord Bia has indicated that beef farmers will be given a period of time, while retaining certification, to provide evidence to show that they have addressed the issue.

The IFA's livestock chair and presidential candidate Henry Burns said the IFA is not prepared to sign off on a new QA without addressing farmer concerns over the complexities with the current scheme.

He said farmers were spending a "significant" amount of time preparing for inspections.

Presidential candidate Joe Healy said it was the most contentious issue on the campaign trail and a "common-sense and flexible approach to farm inspections" was needed.

Flor McCarthy said it is unacceptable at a time when the EU is talking about less red tape and "proper supervision" of trim in factories is vital.

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