The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, has told Agriland that she totally disagrees with the beef specification criteria now being touted by the British supermarkets – specifically the four residency requirement and the classification of store cattle as ‘nomad animals’, once they cross the border.

After a meeting with Irish Minster for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, yesterday she said she believes meat plants have played a very negative role in the current situation. ” Given that they seem to have sat back and let the retailers control an agenda that goes to the very heart of traditional livestock production practises on this island. I intend taking this matter up with all of the supermarkets and the meat processors as a matter of priority.”

She said there is absolutely no reason why cattle born in the south should lose their identity, once they cross the border for finishing. “If labelling is the issue then it should be feasible to let consumers know that the beef they are eating was born in the south of Ireland and reared in the north. This type of situation crops up on the Continent all the time and there is no price penalty applied to the meat that eventually ends up on  a plate. I am deeply suspicious about the motives of the supermarkets in taking this approach. I also feel strongly that the red meat processers could have done more to stand up for farmers on this crucially important matter.”

The Minister went on to point out that she intends discussing these matters with Ireland’s Farm Minister Simon Coveney over the coming days.

Commenting on the tremendous depth of common ground that exists between the agri food sectors on both parts of the island, Michelle O’Neill made it clear that she wants to see the establishment of a single agency with the responsibility of marketing the island of Ireland as a single food nation.

“This approach makes total sense to me,” she said. “In the first instance it will do away with the duplication of effort that is being applied at the moment. Moreover, a single agency approach will help food companies throughout the island better compete for the more than significant business opportunities that exist on export markets.”

The Minister also believes that animal health standards must be harmonised throughout the island of Ireland – and the sooner the better. “The north should be declared Officially Brucellosis Free in the near future. However, I am conscious that the south is further down the road in eradicating BVD. It is my intention to introduce a compulsory BVD testing scheme in the north as soon as possible. Legislation to this effect is currently being drafted.”