Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) chief executive Ian Stevenson expects 2021 to be a busy year for farmers, processers and all associated stakeholder organisations as agriculture in Northern Ireland moves into a post-Brexit and, hopefully, pandemic-free world.
“Helping to secure sustainable support arrangements for the beef and lamb sectors will be a key priority for LMC in 2021. It is important that our suckler cow and breeding ewe populations are recognised as core drivers of our beef and lamb industries moving forward,” Stevenson told AgriLand.
Sustainability and the livestock industry’s response to climate change must be considered in the same context. The reality is that beef and sheep production must be seen as an integral part of the solution, where climate change is concerned, and not part of the problem.
“LMC will continue to communicate the real facts concerning the production of farm quality assured beef and lamb in Northern Ireland. Social media will be used to help drive these messages home with consumers,” Stevenson continued.
“Our experience in this regard during 2020, confirmed that the public wants to know more about the ways in which farm quality assured beef and lamb are produced.
They also want to know a lot more about the inclusion of beef and lamb in the meals they prepare in their own homes.
“It’s all about getting back to basics: how to prepare beef and lamb and how to cook and enjoy these two versatile and nutritious meats in the most effective way possible,” he added.
“The commission led the way in making all of this information available, courtesy of our website in 2020. We intend building on all of this good work in 2021.”
LMC’s chief executive expects the term PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) to become firmly embedded within our vernacular in 2021.
“Minister McConalogue has also submitted an accompanying letter to the commission, requesting that Northern Ireland be included in the geographical area covered by the PGI at a later date. This is based on the expectation that Northern Ireland can verify that it meets the criteria laid down within the original application,” Stevenson commented.
In response, LMC has established a working group, which includes representatives from key stakeholder bodies within the local beef industry, government and support organisations to help address these issues. This work will be carried on as a priority over the coming weeks and months.
“We have many processing businesses operating in Northern Ireland, who for many years have marketed our beef to customers as Irish Grass Fed Beef, and it is imperative that any registration of the name ‘Irish Grass Fed Beef’ as a PGI must not lead to the exclusion of our locally-produced beef which can readily meet the same specification and description,” he added.
“It’s important to make this point in the very strongest possible terms from the get go,” Stevenson stressed.
Looking further down the road, Stevenson is mindful of the fact that the UK now has the opportunity to enter new free trade arrangements with countries around the world, many of whom will regard agri-food access to the UK market as an important element of any deals finally arrived at.
“Countries such as Brazil and the United States must be expected to meet the same food production standards as that expected of farmers in the UK. Currently, this is not the case. It’s all about ensuring a level playing field.
Here in Northern Ireland, farmers will be expected to address the challenge of meeting both UK and EU food production standards. Despite the complicated operating environment, this should be made work to our advantage in the long-term.
The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic served to delay the export of beef products from Northern Ireland to China last year. But the LMC chief is confident the first consignments of beef can be cleared for export in 2021.
“Hong Kong has been a major market for local beef exports going back over a number of years. But getting a foothold in mainland China will represent a major boost for Northern Ireland’s beef industry,” Stevenson said.
“China has a huge import demand for all types of meat and as its economy quickly rebounds after the worst effects of Covid-19, a direct route to market for quality, safe and trusted product from UK suppliers will be an important milestone.
“New export markets for locally-produced beef and lamb should open up over the coming years. But it will take a sustained marketing push to allow us avail of these opportunities in full,” he added.
Given this backdrop, there is an obvious requirement for Northern Ireland’s red meat sector to heighten its profile in countries around the world during the period ahead.
“LMC fully supports the work of all stakeholder groups in reducing the impact of Bovine Tuberculosis [TB] here in Northern Ireland.
“At a fundamental level this remains an important human health and animal welfare issue. However, if current disease levels are retained, the job to fully capitalise on new export outlets for our beef will become all the harder.”