DUP MEP Diane Dodds has reacted to the impact being felt by Northern Ireland farmers who are yet to sell lambs as a result of new changes to EU labelling legislation.
The developments require factories in the Irish Republic to identify imported lambs from Northern Ireland as being of UK or British origin.
Mrs Dodds has described the issue as ‘a misguided attempt by the European Commission and others to tidy up around the edges of the horse meat scandal’.
She continued: “Labelling and improving the information available to consumers has always been high on the agenda in Europe, however the horse meat scandal has led to a refocusing and redoubling of efforts to put legislation in place.
“The market for lambs has been suppressed over the last week - on the back of a weak euro - and now as the Easter market for lamb has passed we experience the impact of a change in EU labelling legislation which came into effect on 1 April. The changes effectively mean that a large percentage of lamb entering the Republic of Ireland for slaughter has no market, which puts farmers at a major disadvantage given that the ROI is a major buyer of sheep and lamb from Northern Ireland.
“I have over the last number of years as a Member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee highlighted the issue of origin labelling, and in particular for those regions which share a land border with another Member State and rely heavy upon exports, such as Northern Ireland. Unfortunately this message has fallen on deaf ears, and the impact is not just being felt for lamb but in other sectors indirectly,” added Mrs Dodds.
“Given the severity of the issue, I took the opportunity to raise my concerns with the EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan when he visited Northern Ireland recently. He has as a result given myself and other interested parties a commitment that he will raise it with the European Commission in an effort to find a solution. I have long said that trade is a two way street and we must find a solution which allows farmers to benefit while ensuring consumers are protected and given meaningful levels of information.”
Chair of the Agriculture Committee, William Irwin MLA added: “I will be writing to the DARD Minister to explore what steps can and have been taken to find a workable solution to the issues presented by the new labelling rules for packaged meat, which has affected our lamb trade with the Republic of Ireland in particular.
“We should also be mindful of the importance of the market in Great Britain and regions of the European Union for our lamb, which will not be affected by this labelling change. Government must continue to work to find new markets, and to encourage processors and retailers - to increase the level of UK lamb on shelves in GB, even under the pressure of a weak euro.”