Ulster Farmers’ Union beef and lamb chairman, Crosby Cleland, says the level of Botswana beef imports is concerning, with 333 tonnes coming through Belfast port so far this year.
Mr Cleland said that since this trade was first highlighted last year it has continued to grow.
He added: “For beef producers hit by poor market prices for much of this year, this is a worrying level of beef coming from a source unlikely to have farm standards equivalent to those in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Cleland said that since food labelling and quality assurance have become big issues for consumers it was surprising so little is known about where this beef is sold.
He said those doing so were certainly not highlighting its origin. “This makes it all the more important that environmental health officers and the Food Standards Agency keep a close eye on food businesses to make sure all controls are being met. For consumers, the best thing they can do is seek out locally produced Farm Quality Assured beef that local farmers have worked hard to produce to the high animal welfare and environmental standards consumers want,” he said.
In the context of Brexit, Mr Cleland said trade agreements will be a major area of debate. He said farmers needed to be assured by political parties that agricultural interests will be fully represented at the negotiating table.
“There are concerns that the UK government may do deals to import food from countries that do not meet farm standards in place in the UK. This is the concept of equivalency. Not making this a condition of trade would be a disservice to consumers and the agri-food industry, which is a key part of the Northern Ireland economy,” he said.
Last week the issue was raised by Ulster Unionist MLA Robin Swann who expressed his shock after it was revealed the quantity of beef imports from Botswana through Belfast Port jumped from zero in 2013 to 183,950 kilograms in 2015. He said the revelation would come as a shock to producers.