Following confirmation from the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association (NIMEA) and the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) that there will be no major changes to in-spec incentives offered by the meat plants in Northern Ireland this week, Ulster Farmers’ Union President Harry Sinclair said; “After our meeting last month, it is safe to say NIMEA and its members were left in little doubt as to the strong and negative feelings of farmers on the ground regarding their proposals and we put pressure on NIMEA to rethink them.

“Following this meeting NIMEA appear to have softened their stance and will seemingly not be bringing in the £150 penalty for out-of spec cattle on the 1st April, which will come as a relief to farmers especially now as many are already struggling with deflated prices.”

“However, the Union still has concerns. The threat of penalties has not been removed completely as NIMEA members are still working towards reducing the number of out of spec cattle and uncertainty remains as to the level and timings of penalties. We would like to see better communication, particularly in relation to market signals and more transparency is needed between the meat plants and farmers as discussions continue around possible penalty proposals. Also, meat plants need to allow for an appropriate lead-in time to give producers time to adapt to any proposed changes whilst the Union would be more supportive of positive incentives rather than disproportionate penalties when it comes to cattle specifications.

“In relation to the four residencies or fewer requirement, given that 95% of cattle in Northern Ireland currently meet this requirement and not all customers ask for it, the UFU is again urging meat plants to absorb the remaining 5% of cattle for which there are other markets. Also, we still have major concerns around the final residency period requirement as we believe this could be a significant barrier to trade and hinder competition in the local marketplace.”

The Union continues to raise these issues with NIMEA and is currently seeking clarification from the main retailers on their beef specifications.