IFA has accused sheepmeat processors of using changes to meat labelling requirements since April 1 as an excuse to destabilise the lamb market.
IFA President Eddie Downey called on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and his Northern counterpart Michelle O’Neill to ensure farmers are not unfairly penalised. Mr Downey said labelling issues go away beyond lamb, and similar problems on beef last year are yet to be resolved.
He said the failure of the Ministers to properly deal with the beef situation last year continues to restrict normal north-south trading.
In recent weeks, the deadweight sheep market north and south came under pressure. Sinn Féin called for all- island branding of agri-food as the only solution to the labelling crisis.
The party’s Northern Ireland Assembly member for East Antrim, Oliver McMullan, said, “Since the introduction of new European labelling regulations on April 1 this year, the lamb trade across the island has been effectively brought to a standstill.
“This new ‘country of origin’ labelling requirement means that produce born on one part of Ireland and slaughtered in the other, is disapprovingly labelled ‘mixed origin’ and therefore not attractive to customers.
“Last year, we saw how similar regulations negatively impacted on our beef trade.
“This crisis will undoubtedly extend to other agri-produce, so it is imperative that it is dealt with immediately.”
Sinn Féin MEP for the Midlands North West, Matt Carthy, said the lamb and sheep trade was at an all-time low, in border areas in particular.
While the labelling issue is undoubtedly having an influence on the Northern Ireland (NI) lamb market, there are a number of other factors which must also be considered, according to the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) for Northern Ireland.
Under the new legislation, meat from sheep born in NI, and killed in the Republic, must be labelled as born in the UK and slaughtered in the Republic. Reports have indicated that these changes are causing issues for southern processors in servicing certain markets, according to the LMC.
“LMC’s understanding is that animals that are exported from NI for slaughter in ROI plants, and then exported in carcase form, are not affected by these changes to labelling legislation. However, this is a lower value market when compared to boned out lamb.
“Figures from Eurostat for January and February 2015 indicate that 70% of Irish lamb exports were boned out, as this is a higher value market. The remaining 30% is exported in carcase form.
“France remains the biggest market for lamb exported from ROI, and received 42% of lamb exports from ROI during 2014, with a further 23% destined for the UK market in the first two months of 2015.
Total lamb and hogget throughput recently increased in NI plants to the highest weekly throughput since the start of January, attributed to a notable decline in exports of lambs/hoggets to the South for direct slaughter (these exports also declined markedly at the same time last year, with the hogget season ending and the lamb trade not yet in full swing).
Euro weakness against sterling has also made cross border trading of Northern lamb less attractive; and LMC sources said a lot of very heavy or poor quality hoggets coming on offer has also hit the North’s liveweight and deadweight trades.
Pressure in recent weeks on the southern sheep trade in ROI has also reduced demand for Northern sheep.
Weaker UK demand for lamb in 2015 is also seen as a factor in the North’s deteriorating sheep trade. “However, with ROI being such an important outlet for NI origin sheep in recent years, since Foyle ceased killing lambs, it is important that every step is taken to ensure a quick and effective resolution to the current issues around the implementation of the new EU labelling,” said an LMC source.
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