There has been no progress yet on finding a solution to the issue of the number of 'residencies' cattle can have before penalties are imposed, according to the Chairman of the the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers’ Association (NILAA) Shaun Irvine.

He said that his organisation has gone the extra mile in trying to find an accommodation with the meat factories, where the cattle residency issue is concerned.

“We attended a meeting last week involving ourselves, the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC), the Meat Exporters Association (MEA) and the Ulster Farmers Union (UFU). At that get-together we proposed that our members would agree to confirm the number of residencies associated with each animal coming into the sale ring, provided the meat factories agreed to a maximum of five farm residencies, before imposing penalties on finishers, and that the auctioneers would be given sufficient time to implement these changes."

At a subsequent meeting with LMC, SDA and the Northern Ireland Agricultural Producers Association (NIAPA), these organisations backed the marts in their proposals and by the end of the meeting the marts had agreed to display the animal residencies if no cuts were applied for six months  to animals which had been on more than four farms.

“The LMC subsequently spoke to the Meat Exporters Association who, we believe, have responded to the effect that if the residencies are displayed immediately at marts individual plants may consider reducing the cuts currently imposed for a period up to January 1, 2015.

“But the fact is that we cannot meet this request, even if we agreed to it. This is due to the fact that the mart operators do not currently have access to all the residency information, which is contained on APHIS. In reality it would take at least six months for the required changes to be made. Marts like Clogher and Ballymena are processing upwards of 1,000 head at each of their sales. Adding the residency requirement on to the existing administrative procedures expected of mart operators constitutes an enormous challenge, one which the plants aren’t obviously aware of.”

He said he was deeply disappointed at the stance taken by the Ulster Farmers’ Union at last week’s meeting. "The reality is that the meat plants have no right to make these residency demands of the mart operators. Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill has already made this point in very clear terms to the factories, yet they persist with their campaign."

He also said that the most galling point of all is that livestock auctioneers in Britain have come under no pressure at all to display the number of farm residencies associated with the stock they are selling. "And on those occasions when the issue has come up, it seems that it is only the Irish and Northern Irish meat plants that are seeking to make something of it.

“The reality is that the plants’ insistence on including a four residency limit within its specification criteria will stop farmers selling heavy store cattle in the live rings. This is bad news for the livestock sector as whole. The mart operators will be meeting over the coming days to decide on their next course of action.”