The new EU labelling regulations may suit the poultry industry, given that they provide more transparent competition for companies like Moy Park when it comes to going up against product from countries in South East Asia – but these very same measures could sound the death knell for every other sector of agriculture in this part of the world.
There is now a fair degree of acceptance that the cross border movement of livestock and produce from one state to another provides a labelling nightmare. Last year we had the issue of store cattle coming North, and being categorised ‘nomads’. And, currently, the same principle is acting in reverse when it comes to lambs from Northern Ireland crossing the border for slaughter and processing.
But let’s not forget that large quantities of milk, produced in Northern Ireland, are actually processed in the Republic. And we can throw in for good measure the thousands of pigs that come north for slaughter every week. All of this produce could, potentially, be impacted upon by the EU food labelling regulations.
There is also no doubt that it suits the UK supermarkets to interpret the labelling regulations in ways that best fit their business model – which seems to be that of paying farmers the lowest possible price for their produce.
In truth, this labelling issue could hole the Going for Growth campaign under the water line. And in so doing, all the plans to put agri food at the very centre of the economy for the next decade and beyond could count for nothing.
Before this matter gets totally out of hand it would behove Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill and her Dublin counterpart Simon Coveney to get on a plane and get to Brussels.
And they shouldn’t come home until this entire labelling debacle is sorted out in ways that reflect the traditional production and marketing practises that have characterised the agri food sectors across this entire island for generations.