UFU demands answers over cattle imports

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) says it is frustrated that some meat plants have increased direct imports of cattle for slaughter when there are plenty of high-quality, local cattle available.

UFU beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney said it was a “smack in the face” for the region’s farmers.

A strained relationship

“Put simply farmers find it hard to trust the meat plants,” he said. “For many, this will confirm that their distrust is fully justified.”

The comments were made after import figures for January showed that almost 1,400 prime cattle were imported from the Republic of Ireland (ROI) for direct slaughter.

This compares with 234 for January 2018. The UFU has challenged those importing cattle to explain their decision to local farmers.

“Farmers have been finding it difficult to book cattle into plants and now we know why.

We understand meat plants make commercial decisions, but this demonstrates bad faith when the supply is there and processors still choose to import.

“Farmers are already struggling with margins and increased imports add to unnecessary queues and depressed prices,” Chesney added.

The UFU said it urged meat plants importing to review their current practices and follow the lead of those prepared to back local farmers.

“We feel our criticism is fair and we urge those importing cattle to take a longer-term view of the importance of their supply base here by rethinking this short-term strategy and getting behind local farmers,” said the UFU beef and lamb chairman, who is a Co. Down beef producer.

The UFU has requested meetings with the meat plants that increased imports of prime cattle from the Republic of Ireland in January 2019.