Ulster Farmers’ Union President Ian Marshall has welcomed the news that constructive discussions have taken place between Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill and Republic of Ireland Minister Simon Coveney on the difficulties facing lamb producers following the introduction of new EU regulations on Country of Origin Labelling.
Mr Marshall said: “Ever since the issues with the new EU Country of Origin Labelling became apparent we have been lobbying DARD to take proactive action and help the farming industry to overcome the well documented trade difficulties which have emerged with processing plants in the South of Ireland.
“This cross border trade is an indispensable component to the local sheep sector which ensures that there is a fair level of competition for lamb produced in Northern Ireland. However, over the past number of weeks the market place has clearly demonstrated how a lack of competition for sheep can have a considerable negative impact on the price that is paid to farmers and we certainly do not believe that it is acceptable that the changes in the EU labelling laws be used to distort the market and hinder cross border trade in any way.”
Mr Marshall continued: “We are pleased that Minister O’Neill has taken the initiative and sought discussions with Minister Coveney for a voluntary label which will provide clarification for both retailers and consumers that the product they are buying is still the high quality product they have always known and should continue to buy.
“While market prices have improved marginally over the last few days, local sheep producers are still nowhere near meeting the cost of production for spring lamb which must improve urgently if producers are going to see a suitable return for their product.
“Furthermore, farmers in Northern Ireland are still at a distinct disadvantage compared with producers in the UK and Republic of Ireland with the price differential which has emerged unnecessarily hindering NI farmers.”
The UFU is urging Minister O’Neill to seek agreement with Minister Coveney as soon as possible and ensure that everything is done to remove any obstacle which negatively impacts on this historic and vital trade.