The Department of Agriculture has been accused of placing huge importance on EU Audits while at the same time disregarding the responsibility they have to the welfare of farmers in Northern Ireland.
This was the criticism of Ulster Unionist Agriculture Spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson MLA following this week’s Agriculture Committee meeting at Stormont.
The Upper Bann MLA recently weighed in behind the Ulster Farmers’ Union as they raised serious concerns about the Department’s cattle ID cross compliance system.
During a meeting where Committee members were receiving a briefing from Department officials on cross-compliance, Mrs Dobson described DARD’s attitude as ‘totally overbearing’ and accused them of ‘gold-plating’ guidance from the EU which is not in legislation.
Commenting after the meeting Mrs Dobson said: “EU Guidance should never be used to effectively treat our farmers as criminals and yet this is exactly what DARD is engaged in. I raised my concerns directly with the Department Official who simply referred to EU guidance rather than giving any indication at all that they were listening to the views of farmers.
“This is yet another classic example of DARD asking the EU how high to jump while not caring one iota for the effect this has on our farmers and at the same time totally ignoring their views.
“Officials have a long way to go to build bridges with farmers and I told them that coming from a farming family myself I knew just how angry farmers are at the attitude of the Department – the truth is they simply don’t get it.
“Constituents of mine have attempted suicide following a cross-compliance check and I, the Farmers’ Union and others are demanding that they see sense and adopt a system which is on a par with those in operation in other regions of the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
“The current system is simply not fit for purpose, victimises our farmers for missing ear tags and as a result leaves them at a competitive disadvantage when compared to farmers in neighbouring regions.
“Northern Ireland’s farmers are asking for no more than parity of treatment.
“DARD have a massive job to do to prove that they are willing to listen to their views and act upon them. I will continue to keep pressure on them at every turn until they finally adopt a system which helps not hinders our farmers.”