The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed the launch of the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland’s (LMC) beef and lamb watch initiative saying that it is an important tool which will allow consumers and farmers to monitor how well retailers are delivering on promises to source more red meat from local sources.

UFU Hill Farming Chair Ian Buchanan said; “The initial results from the LMC’s first few months of ‘beef and lamb watch’ highlight that when it comes to supermarkets putting lamb on their shelves, there is still much to be desired. The UFU carried out a one off survey in 2013 and the results were remarkably similar. In both surveys, Sainsbury’s came top in terms of supporting local lamb producers and so if this retailer can do it, why not all of them? It is extremely concerning that Tesco has continued to fail in their support for local lamb sourcing only 6.5% locally between August 2013 and March 2014. Consumers have not forgotten the horsemeat fiasco in 2013 and the best way to ensure we do not find ourselves in a similar situation is for retailers to ensure a short supply chain with as much local produce available on their shelves all year round.

“We are coming into a crucial period for lamb producers as more finished lambs become available and it is vital that the retailers show their support for this high quality and fully traceable local product throughout the season. It is also worth noting that farmers are also keen to work with retailers to look at ways in which local lamb can be developed and marketed to help boost sales.”

UFU Beef and Lamb Chair Robert Davidson added; “On the beef front, it is encouraging that retailers continue to primarily offer locally sourced Farm Quality Assured beef to consumers in NI. However, serious concerns remain as regards the recent price drop in beef. Historically, this is the time of year when farmers see a rise in beef prices, and this latest drop is severely undermining any confidence beef farmers may have had in the market.

“Shockingly, recent statistics published by Kantar showed that the retail price of beef has increased by 8% between April 2013 and April 2014 while the prime cattle price in NI being paid to farmers dropped by on average 9.4% in the past year. Understandably, beef farmers have been outraged by this revelation as many face increasing financial pressure from low prices and I believe consumers should be too. Consumers buy local products believing that they are supporting local farmers but the evidence would suggest that the only people making a profit out of the current situation are the retailers. That being said with the recent good weather and the fact that the summer season will soon be upon us gives the retailers an excellent opportunity to redeem themselves by showing their support for local farmers by stocking their shelves with local red meat and stepping up their promotion of it.”

UFU will be closely monitoring the LMC’s Beef and Lamb Watch over the next number of months and are keen to look at ways in which this market information can be used to progress the interests of farmers in the market place.