‘Blacklisted’ farmers fall foul of ‘dirty’ sheep clampdown

Concern is mounting over the viability of the Clean Livestock Policy for sheep, after another week of factory slaughter rejections due to ‘dirty’ fleeces.

Multiple sources have confirmed that hundreds of sheep and lambs continue to be turned away from various plants nationwide for failing to comply with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s three-category system for entry into the food chain.

It has also emerged that producers whose sheep are deemed to have heavily contaminated fleeces are “blacklisted” on an internal system that is accessible to department vets at all factories.

John Brooks, chairman of the sheep committee at the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), is calling for a “re-think” of the policy – which was first implemented in 2016.

There is no consistency among vets. Some plants are interpreting the rules much more severely than other plants.

“It’s an ill-conceived, badly thought out policy and we are all to blame. It’s easy to blame the farmer; but, Teagasc, the department, all the agencies have a lot to answer for.

“I’m getting 10 calls a day on this issue. If a farmer has his sheep turned away in one factory, his name is put on a blacklist that is sent to other sheepmeat plants. That is a sinister system and one the ICSA does not agree with,” he said.

Brooks is urging Teagasc and the department to come up with workable solutions.

“Some farmers have no shed; for others putting dirty sheep into a shed for a few days is worse than anything.

“They are advising us to clip sheep; but, that can affect meat quality. If you sheer a sheep a day away from slaughter and its left shivering in the cold, that is a welfare issue.

We all want clean sheep; but, to implement this in the middle of the winter – without any live demonstrations of what is acceptable – is ridiculous.

“Okay if a sheep turns up that is very dirty, farmers are well aware that they can’t send in sheep covered in dirt. But we need to pull back immediately this winter and come up with solutions this summer.

“As it stands, it is unworkable,” said Brooks, fearing that the issue may lead to price discrepancies.

Neck, belly and hind

Farmers across the country have voiced their frustration at trying to meet the standards outlined in the clean sheep policy.

In a case where a hill sheep’s fleece is soiled, farmers have reportedly been advised by some factories to carry out a full shear.

However, it is believed that if a lowland sheep’s fleece is deemed to be soiled they will only require clipping around the neck, belly and hindquarters.

In the event where a batch of sheep fail their anti-mortem inspection and are rejected on the basis of not meeting the requirements outlined in the policy, it is understood that the lot is recorded on a system by vets at the factory.

This data is then available for vets in other factories across the country to access when lots arrive in the lairage of their respective plants.

Splashes

Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said “there is war going on” over the wide-spread problem.

“The sheep are being turned away now and lambs are going to places to be sheered. Does the department not have any concern at all for animal welfare?

“Farmers are having to bring them in, then bring them off, then bring them back again; it’s crazy.

“If you have lambs at the moment out on a bit of land where they are running up and down, of course there will be splashes on them.

You’d nearly want to put them in a bath now and have them washed before you go in to the factory. You don’t know now whether the lamb is clean or not clean; it’s ludicrous.

“Everyone is agreed that you need meat right, no one is denying that; but, I think the department are going overboard here,” he said.