Ulster Farmers’ Union president, Barclay Bell, says that DAERA must follow the lead of the Scottish Government and publically back the live export trade.
The comments were made following Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary, Fergus Ewing’s, statement this week that the Scottish Government will defend the interests of Scottish agriculture by opposing proposals to ban live exports.
The UFU say Scotland is very similar to Northern Ireland in that agriculture plays a significant role in the rural economy. Mr Bell has commended the Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary for coming out and backing the farming industry.
In Northern Ireland, the farming industry is heavily reliant on the free movement of livestock both within the UK and also to other EU Member States. Mr Bell said without this trade farmers will undoubtedly be worse off and existing production levels, which support the wider agri-food industry, would be undermined.
He added: “We need a competitive and profitable livestock sector. Any attempts to impose more controls or ban live exports would have a hugely detrimental impact,
“The Scottish government has recognised the importance of the free movement of livestock for their farming industry. We need DAERA to do the same.
“Farmers will not accept the excuse that the department needs a Minister in place to support a live export trade that is based on fair and proportionate regulations,” added Mr Bell.
A DAERA spokesperson said: “DAERA recognises that a sustainable and competitive cattle and sheep sector in Northern Ireland are important to the future success of the Northern Ireland agri-food industry and that any restrictions or ban on the export of live animals could have a negative impact on those sectors.
“Departmental officials have been, and continue to be, in contact with their counterparts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) regarding proposals to ban live animal exports from the UK intended for slaughter, fattening and production.
“The Department has highlighted to DEFRA how a ban on live animal exports from the UK would have a disproportionally adverse impact on Northern Ireland trade in respect of these exports to the Republic of Ireland and other EU Member States.
“In addition to this, officials have been involved in ongoing work with DEFRA and colleagues from other Devolved Administrations regarding the potential to improve the welfare of animals in transport regulations and regime post EU exit.
“We have suggested that it would be prudent to further progress this work and consider any relevant evidence before considering any amendments to the current process.
“Any change in current policy adopted in Northern Ireland is, of course, a matter for Ministers.”
Meanwhile, Upper Bann MP David Simpson, the DUP member of the Westminster EFRA Committee, has called for the continuation of live animal exports from Northern Ireland to the rest of the EU, following the departure of the UK from the EU.
Mr Simpson MP believes that the trade is essential for the livestock sector in Northern Ireland and that the ending of the export of live animals from Northern Ireland would result in an increase in the number of calves slaughtered at birth and have a very negative impact on beef and lamb prices.
He added: “In Westminster there are plans to bring forward a piece of legislation that would prevent the export of live animals from the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
“I do not support this legislation and over the coming weeks I hope to discuss the matter with the DEFRA Minister Michael Gove. As a region who depends on exporting it would be absolute madness to stop the movement of live animals from Northern Ireland.”