Farmers in Northern Ireland have been warned against importing ‘nomad’ cattle for finishing amid concern it may affect carcase prices.

Figures from the Livestock & Meat Commission (LMC NI) showed that during August almost 3,200 cattle were imported from the Republic of Ireland for further breeding and production on NI farms, taking total cattle imports for the year-to-date to 26,055 head.

It’s almost double the 13,267 cattle imported from the Republic during the same period last year and is the highest level of import recorded since 2010, according to the commission.

The commission explained this was problematic as EU labelling regulations require beef labels to state the country or countries of origin where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered in.

Under these regulations, beef produced from these ‘mixed origin’ or ‘nomad’ animals currently residing on local farms must be identified as born in ROI and reared and slaughtered in the UK.

Supermarket demand

It’s feared this could have a knock-on effect on slaughter prices as many of the major UK retailers only accept beef from animals that have single-origin status – those have been born, reared and slaughtered within either the UK or ROI.

Beef from cattle imported from the Republic for finishing in Northern Ireland is eligible to gain Northern Ireland Farm Quality Assured (FQAS) status, provided it has stayed on an FQAS-approved farm for at least 90 days prior to slaughter.

However, the commission explained that due to its mixed-origin status, beef from these cattle cannot qualify for the Red Tractor logo, which is a further requirement of trading with most of the major UK retailers.

“As a result of the more restricted market outlets, some of the major processors in NI do not want mixed origin or nomad cattle,” LMC explained.

“It is therefore very important that anyone considering buying ROI origin cattle for further production on local farms has contacted the procurement staff of the individual plants to ensure they have a market outlet for these cattle when they are finished.”