New labelling to solve North-South impasse
New branding and labelling options are being considered by the Department of Agriculture in an effort to get the cattle trade between north and south flowing again.
Farmers, marts and processors north of the Border have been hit following the implementation of harsh penalties on animals that are reared in the South but slaughtered in the North.
"Beef farmers and the livestock marts are under awful pressure due to the implementation of unreasonable specifications by processors and retailers that cost up to £150/hd just because it has crossed the border and designated 'nomad'," said Sinn Fein's agriculture spokesperson, Martin Ferris.
The Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney met with his northern counterpart, Michelle O'Neill, last week to explore possible solutions to the impasse.
The IFA president Eddie Downey, who was also present, said that meat processors in Northern Ireland also want the live trade to open up and are prepared to slaughter cattle from the Republic provided the necessary labelling arrangements are cleared up.
He said branding and labelling options, which meet the EU labelling requirements, have been submitted to the Department of Agriculture.
Mr Downey said urgent action is required before the autumn cattle trade picks up at the livestock marts where Northern Ireland buyers play a significant role.
ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan welcomed the fact that the administrations north and south were looking at all- island solutions to fulfilling the marketing requirements of the British retailers. However, he warned that a solution had to be found soon.
"The concept of marketing such beef in Britain on an equal footing with beef born, reared and slaughtered in the Republic needs to be examined and progressed quickly," said Mr Phelan.
ICOS has also voiced its criticism of the new rules, with ICOS director Ray Doyle branding them as anti-competitive.
"Farmers in Northern Ireland are effectively being prevented from the purchase of cattle from the Republic by the factories.
"That's because any farmer that presents a Southern Irish-born animal in a Northern Ireland meat plant will either be turned away or suffer a penalty of up to £150/hd.
"This is clearly anti-competitive behaviour," he said.
"The unique feature of cattle and beef farming on the island of Ireland is the grass-fed nature of our beef. This is a feature which Bord Bia has always highlighted as being a unique selling point for Irish beef in all markets.
"If this characteristic was highlighted by the ministers of agriculture, both North and South, at European level, then maybe we could brand Irish beef as being from the island of Ireland.
"If this was achieved, an animal born in Ballybunion or Ballymena would all be 'Irish Beef' and free trade could once again flourish," claimed Mr Doyle.
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