The Ulster Farmers’ Union has hosted a meeting with beef industry representatives to discuss the proposed penalties on cattle with more than four residencies and the final farm residency period requirement. Representatives from UFU, the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA), the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers Association (NILAA), NIAPA, NBA, FFA, and the SDA Support Group attended the meeting.

UFU President Harry Sinclair said;

“There has been strong opposition to the actions of the meat plants in relation to imposing penalties on cattle with more than four residencies and the requirement that cattle must reside at their final residency for at least 30 days and the meeting was an opportunity to ‘clear the air’ on these issues. Farmers cannot understand the rationale for suddenly bringing in a penalty on cattle with more than four residencies, particularly as such a high percentage of cattle in Northern Ireland (95%) currently meet this specification, and not all meat plant customers require it. Also, the final farm residency period requirement further complicates matters. The past few winters have been difficult for farmers trying to finish cattle and to implement these penalties now with very little warning, when cattle have already been bought, will leave an extremely bad taste in farmers’ mouths whose businesses simply cannot withstand this punitive action.

“I believe NIMEA have gone away from the meeting with a very clear understanding of the farmers’ position and the overall feeling of the industry. We have asked NIMEA to go back to their members and to relay the strong feelings on the ground and have encouraged them to rethink their proposals. The ball is now in their court and we are waiting on their response.”

Speaking after the meeting NILAA Chairman Shaun Irvine indicated that the meat plants are flying in the face of the strong views held by the entire farming industry on the residency issue.

“And this includes the Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill,” he added.

“NIMEA are totally out on a limb on this issue. They must re-consider their position as a matter of priority.”

NIMEA Chief Executive Phelim O’Neill confirmed that the meat plant representative, who took part in this week’s meeting, took careful note of the points made by the other attending groups.

“The Association will give deep consideration to all the views expressed. However, I can confirm that each NIMEA member is committed to delivering the best price for every animal slaughtered in Northern Ireland.

“However, the fact remains that a two tier beef market now exists throughout Europe and the gap in return for those animals in the top tier, compared with those not in spec, is widening at the present time.

“Our clear objective is to ensure that as many finished animals as possible secure the best possible market prices. This is the best outcome for both farmers and processers.”