‘Factories using AIM movement records as an excuse to pay lower prices’

Some factories are effectively using movement records from the Animal Identification Movement (AIM) system as a trade distorting measure to pay lower prices.

That is according to Ray Doyle, of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS), who said the AIM system should not be open to third parties to view and access all prior animal movement data.

Doyle, who is the ICOS National Marts Executive, told delegates at the Beef Forum in Dublin today, July 12, that this information should be restricted to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

This, he said, was originally the intended purpose of the system – a method of monitoring cattle movements in the event of a disease outbreak.

Competition issues

Potential competition issues with meat processors controlling meat plants, offal rendering and now feedlots – which also go against the green image that Ireland is trying to project abroad – need to be addressed by the government, Doyle said.

Movement criteria are a trade issue, not a quality issue. Either an animal is eligible for sale and slaughter or it’s not and that’s the only identifier that AIM should make known to third parties.

“It is the case that other EU countries do not allow third parties to access all prior movement data.

“This is different, of course, to enabling third parties to record information onto the system, which is fully necessary and acceptable.

“What we have a big problem with is the fact that the AIM data is being used in reverse by factories and retailers to penalise farmers based on the number of movements of their livestock,” he said.

‘A serious contradiction in the market’

The AIM system is facilitating a serious contradiction in the market, according to Doyle.

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“On the one hand, we’re promoting our Irish green image abroad, which relies on pasture-based production, and this advantage is underpinned by movements from farm-to-farm, as cattle move through their rearing and onwards towards higher levels of nutrition at maturity.

“On the other hand, while AIM is used by hundreds of agents and dealers to record these movements, this is projected as a negative quality parameter by the factories that are effectively using AIM movement records as a trade distorting measure to pay lower prices,” he added.

Movement of cattle

The movement of cattle is a key factor in maximising the content of highly beneficial Omega-3 and CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) in meat – which comes principally from a grass-fed diet, Doyle explained.

“The irony is that the factories are trying to drive the supply chain into single movements from farm-to-feedlot, which reduces the beneficial content of meat and also negates Ireland’s green image as a pasture-based meat producer.

“Movement and residency should only be based on Bord Bia BQAS (Beef Quality Assurance Scheme) standards, which allow for multiple movements between quality assured farms before and during the final 70-day period prior to slaughter.

However, the Irish factory ‘bonus system’ penalises more than four movements of livestock between farms prior to slaughter, ostensibly for quality and animal welfare reasons.

“Cattle that have moved farms in the last 70 days before slaughter are also penalised and don’t qualify for the QPS (Quality Pricing System) bonus, even if all farms are quality assured,” Doyle said.

Restrictions

The factories say that the basis for their restrictions is consumer-driven, but there is no factual basis for this, he added.

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“The restrictions that the factories are implementing, while using the AIM system to do so, are simply being used as a market control measure.

Movement has always been a part of Irish cattle rearing where western suckler calves, as well as southern dairy and beef calves, are moved for finishing in the midlands and the east.

“Selling Irish beef should mean just that – it is Irish and produced on a natural and wholesome Irish model, not on a model that is being degenerated to become the same as a UK feedlot production system to suit the interests of factories and UK retailers,” Doyle said.

Meat quality

He highlighted that the main factors of quality in meat destined for consumers related to the handling of meat after slaughter – where meat gains tenderness through a slow chilling process, hanging for at least 14 days and hanging by the pelvis versus the leg.

“The number of movements pre-slaughter has no bearing on meat quality and conversely, it enhances the beneficial content of meat through the maximum exposure to a pasture-fed diet.

It’s time to clamp down on anti-competitive activities in the market and the closing off of access to AIM data by third parties forms a key part of this requirement.

“A tightening up of procedures is required and this is particularly the case as the stringent new EU General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect in 2018,” he concluded.