The Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA)  has responded to the mounting anxiety expressed over recent days by farmers and marts to the proposed limitation of four moves in the lifetime of an animal – after which price penalties will kick in.

NIMEA Chief Executive Phelim O’Neill said “I feel that the Auctioneers have misunderstood the issues. This isn’t about threatening marts: in fact we recognise the vital and essential role they have in facilitating transfer of cattle between farmers at different stages in the animal’s life. Four farm residencies currently affects only 6% of cattle currently and this figure includes several transfers between holdings that have different herds within the same farm business.

“We began dialogue with the marts about this last summer and met in the autumn to explain that in order to serve the top blue chip customers in the UK there were a number of issues that were an absolute must. Things like FQAS and a standstill period before slaughter are necessary but impact on less than 1% of cattle so therefore not an issue. The four farm residencies,  the term ‘moves’ has wrongly been used by us as well as everyone else, is different in that it impacts on 6% of cattle. This is not a huge number overall but still they are denied access to top markets.”

He added “This wasn’t such a major problem in the past when prices closely tracked the EU average, because although there are additional processing costs for handling them separately, they could still be sold in the secondary markets for a good enough price.

“Over the past year however a dramatic gap has developed between the premier league UK retailer and burger chain outlets and the second division markets which throughout Europe are competing head to head with Polish beef. The simple desire is to prevent top quality cattle falling out of the top markets unnecessarily and with relatively simple management not a single penalty need have to be paid as is the case today with FQAS.

Finally four farm residencies have been the specification for most of the premier league customers for up to 18 years. We wish we could guarantee no change but that is the customers prerogative. If they are paying top dollar prices relative to the rest of the market, they can write the specification and we have to choose if we want that business with them or if we want to settle for the second division market. Out members believe we should tray and get as much of our beef as possible into the highest value markets.