Farm Ireland

Thursday 19 April 2018

ICSA urges return of official graders

Return of Dept staff key to restoring confidence says farm group

Declan O'Brien and Martin Ryan

The ICSA has called for the reinstatement of trained Department of Agriculture graders in beef export plants to reassess disputed carcass grades.

The move follows confirmation that significant errors in the grading of cattle were identified in checks last year.

Department of Agriculture inspections of mechanical grading machines in export plants during 2009 found that more than 9pc of conformation grades were incorrect, while 7.5pc of fat scores were also wrong. ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin said the results of the checks were shocking. In light of the findings, the ICSA leader called on the Department to:

  • Give farmers access to a credible independent appeals system when they are unhappy with their grades;
  • Have trained graders available for all factories that can reassess carcass grades which are in dispute;
  • Assess the anomalies found by the study of last year's kill and, where it can be shown that farmers were underpaid, compensation should be paid.

"The news that discrepancies were found between mechanical grading machines and Department inspectors on a sizeable proportion of the carcasses checked has led to outrage amongst beef farmers," Mr Gilmartin said.

But the Department has insisted there was no cause for concern from farmers regarding mechanical grading machines.

A Department statement explained that the outcome of checks in 2009 showed the machines had continued to perform very well when assessed using the performance criteria laid down in EU regulations.

It is not clear whether the grades and fat scores allocated to the incorrectly classified carcasses last year were better or worse than they should have been.

Industry specialists said the grading machines had a tendency to underestimate conformation and fat score. Consequently, farmers were likely to have benefited from incorrect fat scores but lost on conformation.

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However, Mr Gilmartin said farmer confidence in the mechanical grading machines had been undermined and he warned that the legal basis for their operation could be called into question.

"With the introduction of the much more complex grid, where there is very precise price differentiation, any shortcomings in grading will translate into a lot of incorrect pricing," he claimed.

Meanwhile, IFA national livestock chairman Michael Doran called on the Department to increase supervision levels in the meat plants to guarantee the accuracy of mechanical classification.

Mr Doran said IFA recently met with senior Department inspectors over classification and demanded that the levels of inspection of mechanical classification, and other areas such as carcass trim, are increased in order to guarantee farmers they are receiving accurate returns under the system.

Irish Independent