Tagging problem holding back sheep exports: Creed

Lack of electronic traceability is an issue sector 'can't afford to ignore', warns Minister

Mountbellew Sheep Mart, Co. Galway. John Finneran from Taughmaconnell, Co Roscommon brings his sheep to the mart. Photo Brian Farrell
Mountbellew Sheep Mart, Co. Galway. John Finneran from Taughmaconnell, Co Roscommon brings his sheep to the mart. Photo Brian Farrell

Louise Hogan and Claire Fox

The absence of compulsory electronic tagging in the sheep sector is hindering access for exports into new markets, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has warned.

Mr Creed insisted the traceability issue would have to be "revisited".

Minister Michael Creed. Photo: Tony Gavin
Minister Michael Creed. Photo: Tony Gavin

"I don't think we'll be getting sheepmeat access [to Japan] under our current traceability regime," he said following the recent Irish trade mission to Japan and Korea.

Mr Creed acknowledged there has been strong resistance from the farming bodies on electronic tagging, with cost raised as a major factor.

"It won't come as a surprise to the industry," he said. "It is an issue we just can't afford to ignore any more."

Mr Creed said the traceability issue had also come up in access discussions with the US.

Traceability was strong in the sheep sector but if an issue involving a recall ever arose, the discrepancies between the sheep and the beef system would be raised, added Mr Creed.

Lamb does not feature strongly on menus in either Japan or Korea, with just 10,700 tonnes of sheepmeat imported into Korea last year compared with 464,900t of pigmeat.

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IFA national sheep chairman John Lynskey said Ireland has a strong national sheep identification system (NSIS) with individual tagging of all sheep, including electronic tagging of all our 2.5 million ewe flock.

Electronic tagging involved "considerable work and costs on producers in a very low-income sector" and it must deliver dividends in terms of market access and price return, he said.

The farm bodies have warned it would add to costs, with a pair of electronic ID tags costing €1.30.

Mr Lynskey said Irish farmers are puzzled as to why New Zealand has market access to all EU countries as well as the US, China and Japan even though it has no tagging system at all.

ICSA sheep chairman John Brooks said he is very sceptical about a sudden drive for full-electronic tagging on the back of the trade visit.

"We should not rush to make substantial changes on foot of dubious promises of future sales of sheepmeat to countries thousands of miles away," he said.

"There is absolutely no need for any more traceability when it comes to the majority of lamb which is killed direct at meat factories from the farm of birth."

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) confirmed an audit on traceability in the sheep sector was currently being finalised.

Beef access

Meanwhile, Minister Creed said he had received a "positive" response on the issue of access for beef over 30 months with his counterparts in Japan.

Imports of Irish offal, mainly beef tongue, to Japan stand at €16m and continue to grow.

He also met with his Korean counterpart to discuss beef access to the country which is just 70pc self-sufficient in beef.

"There is a six stage process and we are at stage four," Minister Creed said.

"We had a delegation from Korea in Ireland earlier this year and we believe it went quite well but it [progress] is slower than we would like," he admitted.

Irish pigmeat exports to Korea are worth €4m a year.

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