Meat factories cracking down on 'dirty' sheep
Processors claim Department vets are demanding strict compliance on clean stock rules
Farmers are facing a clean sheep clampdown in the factories this week, with reports of some plants turning away dirty animals.
A renewed focus on 'dirty' sheep by Department of Agriculture vets has already resulted in animals being held back for clipping in some plants, while suppliers have been warned that dirty sheep will not be killed.
The factories claim they have been instructed by the Department that dirty stock - those classed as category C under the Clean Livestock Policy for Sheep - were not to be slaughtered.
"There is a strong focus on clean sheep now and everyone needs to do as much as they can to get them in as clean as possible," said Cormac Healy of Meat Industry Ireland (MII).
"With the greater attention on it, hopefully not as many will be coming in. Those categories such as C are certainly being held over until they can be addressed," he added.
John Kennedy of Kildare Chilling's lamb procurement office, said the company was trying to work with farmers on the issue.
However, he insisted that animals classed as category C cannot be sent up the line.
"We are still getting 60 to 100 bad ones a day. We are leaving them back to dry out and we get someone in to clip them," he said. "It is a big veterinary issue."
He said more awareness was needed among farmers on the issue.
"Now is the worst it has been in a while because of the weather.
If sheep are in a very bad condition, even putting them on straw for a few days isn't working," he said.
However, the farm organisations have rejected suggestions that the clean sheep issue can be addressed by the farmers alone.
"The factories are going to have to be realistic about this," John Brooks of the ICSA said.
"At the time of the year when weather is wet, we are not going to be delivering extremely clean sheep," he said.
While Mr Brooks stressed that farmers were not condoning dirty sheep being sent for slaughter, he said the factories also had a role to play in the process.
"A lot of factories are going to have to improve their lairages," he said.
Mr Brooks claimed some processors were shearing the belly wool off and charging farmers up to €1/head.
IFA sheep chair Sean Dennehy said farmers will do their best to have their sheep as clean as possible but a practical and sensible approach must be taken.
He said moves by some of the factories to threaten farmers with additional costs are over the top and a retrograde step.
Under the Clean Livestock Policy for Sheep, which was launched last year, animals are categorised as A, B or C.
Those categorised as A are deemed satisfactory, B grades are described as acceptable, but those in category C are classed as unacceptable for slaughter because of their fleece condition.
"These sheep must not be presented for ante-mortem in this condition and it is the responsibility of the Food Business Operator (the factory) to take the required remedial action," the policy states.
Efforts have been made to inform farmers of the clean sheep policy, with information on the initiative sent out with the recent sheep census forms.
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