Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) officials have held an online meeting with representatives of the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers’ Association to discuss the new Northern Ireland Food Animal Information System (NIFAIS).

The new registration and permitting facility NIFAIS, which replaces the Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS), which has been in use for the past two decades, launched last week.

Mart managers in Northern Ireland remain exasperated at what they regard as the debilitating impact of the new livestock permitting system.

James Johnston, the manager of the Ulster Farmers’ Mart in Enniskillen, took part in the meeting with DAERA. He said the new system is “far too slow”.

“From what we can gather it may take weeks, or possibly months, to bring it fully up to speed,” he added.

“Why did DAERA not wait until they had all the gremlins worked out before introducing the new system?”

According to Ballymena Mart’s Shaun Irvine, the introduction of the new procedures have not been without problems.

“We have had major headaches to deal with over the past few days,” he said.

“I am fully aware of the complexities associated with the changeover to the new system. But we have had to deal with numerous delays this week.

“Under the old system, dealing with incoming permits and writing outgoing permits was an almost instantaneous process.

“Now staff at the mart are waiting for up to two minutes simply for NIFAIS to open up a farmers’ herd record.

“This might be ok if only a few cattle are involved.

“But we are dealing with up to 700 or possibly 800 animals at each of our sales. As a result, the delays created in getting the paperwork sorted out were enormous.

“It’s bad enough when dealing with cattle moving from the sale yard back to another farm. It’s a different matter altogether when moving out cattle destined for slaughter within 24 hours.”

Commenting on these developments, Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president, David Brown, said:

“Many members have been in contact this week reporting problems with the NIFAIS system. We are aware that it has been performing poorly.

“The issues with NIFAIS has created a great deal of disruption and stress for our members who are extremely worried about statuses and penalties that it could cause in the future. We also spoke to local marts and processors, and they too are having issues with the system.

“We urge DAERA to acknowledge that there is a problem with NIFAIS and to communicate with the farming community so they know what is happening. This is critical to ease any fears and confusion.”

Last week, the NIFAIS head, Nigel Trimble, acknowledged some “teething” issues.

“As with any complex IT system roll-out, there have been some teething issues, including system performance, which we are working to address as quickly as possible and our thanks to all the users including farmers, private veterinary practices and the livestock marts and meat plants for their continued patience as  the system becomes fully embedded,” he said.