Back in September 2014, the Ulster Farmers Union in conjunction with Pig Regen and the NI Pork and Bacon Forum agreed to progress with the introduction of a programme to DNA test pigmeat products to provide assurances to consumers on the integrity of locally labelled products, writes UFU Pork and Bacon Policy Officer Roger Allen.
Following this, the UFU sent a letter out to all NI pig farmers detailing all aspects of the scheme and calling for full participation in order to ensure that the programme is a success.
As detailed in the letter, the scheme involves building up a databank of DNA of all the boars used in the production of Northern Irish pigmeat, including all on farm boars (and teaser boars). This will allow us to test pig meat, processed or unprocessed, and confirm if it is of Northern Irish origin through matching it back to this boar databank.
Based on this scientific evidence, the UFU will then identify companies who are using imported pig meat which may not meet the animal health and welfare standards of Northern Ireland and expose anyone who is misleading consumers about the origin of their products. This DNA programme will therefore offer extra assurance to local consumers and retailers about the origin of their pig meat. The NI Pork and Bacon Forum is making very good progress with retailers on the use of its label and this DNA testing initiative further strengthens the authenticity of this label and encourages its use.
The overall success of the programme relies on the co-operation of all pig farmers, and the UFU would like to stress how important it is that all pig farmers in Northern Ireland fully participate. Not only will it bring direct benefits to local producers, but it is in each individual pig producers interest to ensure that their pigs are included in this programme otherwise they will not be recognised as Northern Irish because the DNA of their boars will not be held on the databank. In addition to the on-farm boars, the AI stations have also been contacted and are already DNA testing all AI studs which are being used in Northern Irish pigmeat production.
The quicker this boar databank is complete to an acceptable degree of accuracy the quicker we will be able to begin testing pigmeat products.
With good co-operation from farmers, the time scale involved could be significantly reduced, however, to date there has only been a limited number of on-farm boars tested and registered on our databank. The UFU is therefore calling all farmers to DNA test their on-farm boars and teaser boars as soon as possible reminding farmers that this scheme has the potential to transform the entire Northern Irish pig industry, making it more sustainable for the future.
All information is included within the letters, together with a registration form which should be sent to Countryside Services along with payment as outlined for the number of boars used on the farm. This individual and industry investment will provide an excellent return as we develop a more sustainable local market for genuine, Northern Irish pigmeat.