Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU), deputy president, Victor Chestnutt says there are shortcomings in the checks carried out by Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) staff on red meat consignments imported through Belfast port.
Furthermore, he says more resources must be put into increasing the number of checks, given concerns about meat from countries outside the EU.
The Union’s claims have been rejected by DAERA.
Mr Chestnutt explained: “Over 3,500 tonnes of frozen red meat came through Belfast port from outside Europe between January 2016 and May 2017. Most was from New Zealand, Botswana and Australia. Yet just five per cent of containers were checked by the port authorities.
“It’s worrying that our authorities have not increased inspections to ensure all meat complies with the requirements for entry into the EU.”
The UFU also wants better labelling laws to protect consumers.
“One of the fundamental principles of country of origin labelling is that this is clearly displayed on packaging. However, there is a major gap in the current legislation. These rules have less muscle when it comes to meat going into the catering trade or where loose products are sold in butchers’ shops,” said Mr Chestnutt.
He added that the UFU is concerned that this is where much of this imported meat is destined.
“This is an area we want the Food Standards Agency, DAERA and the Environmental Health Authorities to address.
Responding, a spokesman for DAERA said: “The Department rejects the UFU comments. Belfast Border Inspection Post (BIP) has been an EU approved since 1993, and has been the subject of multiple EU Food and Veterinary Office audits during the intervening period with ongoing full compliance.
“The default requirement is for all consignments (100%) of products of animal origin (POAO) to be subject to documentary, identity and physical checks. Sampling of consignments is conducted under and in accordance with the requirements of the UK National Monitoring Plan, and further sampling takes place where safeguard measures are in place in respect of particular public of animal health concerns.
“Several consignments of POAO have been rejected at Northern Ireland BIPs to date in 2017 at the importers` expense due to failure to comply with import conditions, and such rejections are reported to the Commission.
“DAERA has always been transparent in this area and in June 2016, it hosted a visit by members of the UFU to Belfast Port during which import controls where explained and detail on relevant consignments provided. The Department made it clear then that it implements rigorous and robust controls on consignments of products of animal origin; this work supports the ongoing capability and aspirations of the industry in being able to export local produce around the world from a disease free region. This remains the case to this day.”