There is no scientific basis for the 30-month age limit to remain as a requirement for the slaughtering of beef in Ireland, Dr. Patrick Wall (Paddy) – professor of public health at UCD – has stated.

The professor – who was the first CEO of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) which was established in 1999 in response to the BSE crisis – contends that the rule should no longer apply.

The 30-month threshold was introduced because of BSE and not meat quality – and BSE is now confined to history.

“BSE affected older cattle and, at the time, supermarkets wanted under 30 months to keep BSE out of the food chain.

“It was an important rule at the time, but it has become cast in stone and people have forgotten why it was brought in – it has nothing to do with the meat quality.

“BSE is over and so, therefore, there is no need for the 30-month rule now – there is no rationale behind it so that should be changed,” said Dr. Wall.

Quick win

Speaking to AgriLand, Dr. Wall outlined that this change could be a “short-term solution” to the current impasse between the processors and farmers which have led to countless factory-gate protests, court appearances, temporary job losses, farmer arrests and losses in processor earnings over the last six weeks.

The leading public health professional – who also previously chaired the UK Food Standard Agency’s Steering Group which oversaw the modification of BSE controls in the UK in response to the changing disease threat – didn’t go so far as to label the widely contested industry spec requirement as an anti-competitive practice.

“It became an accustomed practice but this issue could be resolved very quickly – but you need the retailers and the meat industry guys to sit down and say they agree,” he said.

Dr. Wall is urging all the country’s farm lobby groups to work together for the sake of protecting the Irish beef sector – warning that it will not be sustainable if one stakeholder – the farmer – is not getting a margin above the cost of production.

“The Beef Plan Movement emerged as the beef farmers had nobody airing their concerns.

There was a vacuum. If the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) was representing beef farmers more there wouldn’t have been a vacuum.

“The IFA is a powerful organisation, it is well recognised in Europe and it needs to stand up and be counted now on this one,” he said.

He cautioned that without a joined-up Irish farming lobby it will become increasingly difficult to secure the sector and indeed rural Ireland – particularly as the UK’s departure from the European Union edges ever closer.

“We need a united farmer voice to lobby for a substantial post-Brexit package if areas of rural Ireland are to survive.

“The IFA has its Brussels office and the international connections and it needs to heal the rifts among Irish farmers, as we will get one chance to maximise the package,” he said.

‘Divided we fall’

Dr. Wall also raised these points in response to a question from Ballymahon beef farmer Frank Nally during a Roscommon IFA county meeting last night, Tuesday, September 3.

He also voiced his support for the looming establishment of the Beef Plan Movement’s new producer organisation called ‘Irish Beef Producers’; plus he would support the promotion of a premium grass-fed suckler brand, which he says would be suitable to specific regions.

“The beef sector won’t be the same again as the status quo cannot continue.

“The beef markets are such that there isn’t a market for over-producing beef, so we have to change.

There is also all this talk about people eating less meat; if that is the case then we won’t be able to produce beef that nobody wants.

“We can’t go back to farmers producing cattle below cost – farmers were getting more for their beef 15 years ago.

“We have fair trade coffee and fair trade bananas; why can’t we have fair trade beef?

“We need to maximise the opportunity to negotiate a post-Brexit package – but we can only do that if the farmers are united – united we stand, divided we fall; that’s the way it is,” concluded Dr. Wall.