Lack of progress on approvals for pork exports

Margaret Ritchie
Margaret Ritchie

A meeting was held last week between pig producers and the senior management at Karro Food group to express their anger and frustration at the lack of progress towards achieving approval for the long awaited exports of Northern Irish pork meat.

The farmers are calling on DEFRA to complete the details required, so as to open export markets for all parts of the animal.

The pig producer’s representatives included the three main marketing groups along with JMW Farms and Malcolm Keys, who together represent 80% of the pigs produced in Northern Ireland.

Producers have been operating at less than the cost of production for some six months now and had been assured that Chinese approval was imminent.

The pig producers are also angry that, despite retail assurances, a lot of promotional product is sourced outside of Northern Ireland.

Farmers also point out that wholesalers source a lot of their pig meat from outside the UK: this includes supplying publicly owned businesses, departments and schools.

“Pig producers have also invested heavily in production facilities in anticipation of the promised demand,” explained Hugh McReynolds, CEO of the PCM Group.

“With forecasts for the market showing no sign of improvement then without immediate intervention, the local pig industry will continue to decline. In the present situation, there is no sustainable model for pig farming in Northern Ireland.

“Pig farming has been in decline for some years now due to a non-sustainable situation driven by cheaper imports of a lesser quality product and latterly the closure of the Russian market for European meat.”

He added: “Pig producers are suffering in silence and the financial position is dire. DARD/DEFRA have made various promises to the industry and as yet nothing has been delivered and this is costing the Northern Irish pig industry millions each day.

“This situation needs to be managed in an urgent manner and DARD/DEFRA need to form an action plan to address this critical issue. The lead agency DEFRA is dragging its heels we firmly believe.”

Meanwhile, SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie has made representations to both DARD and DEFRA to press for action to allow for the commencement of pork exports to China.

Ms Ritchie stated: “I am pleased that considerable progress had been made in relation to this matter and that a provisional agreement was made in Autumn 2015. However, it appears that the matter has now stalled, and I have written to both Departments to ask for the agreement to be fully enabled.

“Furthermore, it is now important that additional new access to global markets in North and Central America are opened up for other agri-food produce. This means that the processing of certificates for licensing purposes must be accelerated and also that exploration and investigation of new markets must take place at a greater level of speed.

“To do this, more resources must be invested in the export division of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Division in England.”

The MP said she would continue to pursue this matter with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.