The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed the decision by the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneer Association (NILAA) to display the number of farm residencies a beef animal has had at point of sale.

UFU president Ian Marshall said: “All parties involved in these discussions have come through a difficult period and while the solution will not be ideal for everyone the compromise does allow the industry to move forward.

The UFU understands that at this stage the NILAA has given their members the discretion to decide at an individual mart level whether to display the number of residencies, but we believe it is absolutely essential that all marts do so and our members have been calling for this for some time now. Displaying the number of residencies an animal has will allow for improved transparency in the market place and ensure that both buyers and sellers are in a position to market cattle appropriately.Farmers have been caught in the middle of this row and at least now with this agreement reached, we will be able to make an informed decision when buying cattle.

“The marts have flagged up that there may be logistical difficulties when it comes to displaying this information electronically and therefore we are calling on DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill to support this initiative by exploring every option which can assist the livestock markets with these changes.”

Ian Marshall also said that while the move by some meat processors to be more sympathetic with cattle with more than four residencies until 1st January 2015 is positive as well, significant concerns remain about the way this spec was originally introduced and enforced. “The debacle created is yet another example why greater consultation is required within the food supply chain on issues surrounding market specifications.

“In light of this, the UFU has also considered and agreed to support the proposed LMC’s Red Meat Protocol which seeks to ensure that there is greater consultation, transparency and lead-in times if any new specification is being considered. This can potentially protect the interests of farmers from practical and financial complexities as well as ensure that they are in a position to access or maintain premium markets.

“Further to this, the UFU has highlighted to the British Retail Consortium the considerable difficulties NI’s beef farmers have faced as a result of rigid supermarket specifications. There are a number of matters which should be looked at on a regional basis, which do not compromise quality or traceability but would allow for more flexibility to accommodate NI’s farming structure and deliverer a fairer price for farmers’ efforts.”