Sinn Féin MEP, Matt Carthy has said he remains dissatisfied with the ongoing manipulation of EU ‘country of origin’ labelling rules that he says are affecting the traditional North South beef trading practises.
The manipulation employed by processors and retailers are being used to suggest that cattle brought from south to north for slaughter must have a ‘mixed’ label when they make it to the supermarket shelf. Such cattle are therefore securing a lower return despite the fact that the quality is equal to all other stock.
“Figures released recently show that only 528 fit cattle have moved north for slaughter so far this year and the number of cattle moving north at any age halved from 54,562 in 2013 to just 26,073 last year.
“Of course the devaluation of sterling is a factor, but farmers I meet are convinced that the ongoing issue regarding labelling is playing a significant role in the dismal figures.
“Farmers from the north are dissuaded from coming south to buy cattle because of the penalties imposed by supermarkets and processors. Any cattle that do cross the border are given the ridiculous label of “nomad cattle” despite the fact that the distances travelled can often be miniscule.
“Sinn Fein have been working on an all-Ireland basis for a number of years to secure authorisation for any beef reared and finished on the island of Ireland to be entitled to the title of Irish. Unfortunately EU Country of Origin regulations are being manipulated to prevent this from happening.
“The European commission have told me that they are open to finding a political solution to this problem. When she was Minister for Agriculture in the north, Michelle O’Neill repeatedly indicated that she was eager for an ‘Island of Ireland’ label to be introduced. Unfortunately her southern counterpart, Simon Coveney at that time did not show the same willingness and refused to meet me to even discuss the issue despite my repeated requests.
“Of course, Brexit has now complicated matters further. But it may also provide an opportunity to reopen the issue. EU negotiators will be closely examining how to encourage the best relationship between Ireland and the UK and within Ireland, north and south, going forward, and an Irish derogation in the origin regulations should be an option, in the interest of maintaining strong cross border trade.
“Cross border movements have been a factor in the Irish beef trade for generations. If the political will is there this issue can be address despite the efforts of the major processors and retailers. EU country of origin rules were not designed for this purpose and it is unfair on Irish farmers that they are being manipulated in this manner.
“As a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture & Rural Development committee, I will certainly continue to press that Irish beef farmers, who are already under price pressures and who have most to lose from Brexit, are facilitated in this regard”.