Irish meat plants have no grounds to penalise prime beef cattle over 30 months of age, according to IFA National Livestock Committee Chairman Henry Burns.

“This is now totally evident given the confirmation from the World Organisation for Animal Health that Ireland is a country having a negligible BSE risk,” he said.

“We were aware of this potential news, courtesy of a meeting with the Chief Veterinary Officer six weeks ago. At the time, Minister Coveney confirmed that he recognised the very positive implications which this development would have for the Irish beef industry.

“But this will only have true meaning for beef farmers if the plants agree not to cut the price they pay for over-30-month cattle. And I am calling on the Minister to publicly endorse this view as a matter of priority.”

Burns also pointed out that the removal of the age restriction would have no impact on the quality of Irish beef brought to market.

“It will also allow farmers to increase the amount of grazed grass they can include in the rations fed to beef cattle,” he said.

“This is good news for individual producers and the image of the Irish beef industry as a whole.”

IFA President Eddie Downey said that the BSE-related decision should open a new era of increased access to international markets and reduced costs. This will deliver increased opportunities and prices for Irish beef farmers.

“There is now no scientific or market roadblock to increasing the 30 month age limit to 36 months and we must see delivery.”

Downey also pointed out that the change in Ireland’s BSE status, plus the recommended changes by the European Food Safety Authority to reduce specified risk material, should result in significant savings in disposal costs for processors. This, in turn, will add to the value of the carcase and cattle prices to producers.

Meanwhile, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) has called on Minister Coveney to convene a meeting of the Beef Forum with immediate effect.

“These meetings are supposed to take place every three months, yet the last get-together was held at the beginning of this year,” said ICSA General Secretary Eddie Punch.

“If the Minister does not convene a meeting before the Dail’s summer recess, then the entire round table project will fall into disrepute.”

The last meeting of the Beef Forum was held on February 15.

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that a further Beef Forum meeting will proceed as planned and a date will be finalised shortly.