There is a growing awareness amongst farm industry leaders that the current EU food labelling regulations could impact negatively on all the agri sectors in Northern Ireland.
Copa-Cogeca Secretary General Pekka Pesonen addressed this week’s Ulster Farmers’ Union annual general meeting and made it clear, courtesy of his presentation, that the labelling issue would not be easily resolved from a Northern Ireland perspective.
Union Deputy President Barclay Bell is also confirming that the current EU food labelling regulations do Northern Ireland no favours at all.
“This is a very complicated matter and we need to see both farm ministers, Michelle O’Neill and Simon Coveney, take this issue up with Brussels as a matter of priority,” he said.
He also recognised the potential threat this matter posed to the agri food sector as a whole. Sheepmeat is the commodity in the spotlight at the moment; prior to this the matter had come to the fore in the context of the ‘nomad’ status attributed to cattle imported from the Republic of Ireland.
And the Union is also conscious that other commodities could be dragged into this debacle.
Where sheep are concerned Mr Bell indicated that the recent meeting with the IFA had seen both organisations agree a high degree of common ground on the matter.
“The IFA recognise this as an issue with implications for Ireland as a whole,” he said.
“The weakening of prices recorded in Northern Ireland over recent weeks will, no doubt, spread to the rest of the island in a very short space of time. The fall-off in lamb numbers heading south for processing may also lead to the closure of at least one processing plant in the Republic of Ireland.”
The union office bearer is also extremely conscious of the fact that most of the lamb groups based in Northern Ireland traditionally send their produce south for processing.
“Again we need this matter sorted out in Brussels as a matter of priority,” he said.
“And it’s up to both farm ministers, acting in unison, to get this matter sorted out. The reality is that the farming and food sectors on both parts of this island are highly reliant on each matter. The EU authorities must be made fully aware of this fact and the food labelling regulations changed accordingly.
“And it’s up to the farm ministers to get this issue sorted out as a matter of priority.”
SDLP Vice-Chair of the Agriculture Committee Joe Byrne MLA has demanded action on the crisis.
Mr Byrne said that the Agriculture minister had failed in her duty and must take action with Dublin on the issue.
He added: “The current lamb price crisis is causing havoc to sheep farmers selling Spring lambs at livestock marts where there are very few buyers from the Republic which is traditionally the case at this time of year.
“The debacle surrounding lamb and sheep meat labelling because of country of origin, is severely depressing lamb prices.
“This crisis is a symptom of North/South failure to sort out labelling. The Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill is failing in her duty to Northern farmers to take this issue seriously.
“The Minister and senior DARD officials should be in Dublin every day dealing with the Republic Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to get the problem sorted once and for all. Softly, softly phone calls are no way of dealing with this crisis. Action is needed to help our sheep farmers at this crucial time.”