The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has confirmed that it has been in discussions with DAERA (Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development) for some time over potential cattle identity problems in Northern Ireland.

The issues addressed include calves being registered at birth with the wrong sex, colour and breed.

Union management believes that most of these problems came about as a result of genuine human error. They specifically cite the fact that the colour of animals can change dramatically between birth and slaughter.

However, there is now genuine concern that these identity issues could lead to cattle being kept out of the human food-chain by meat processors. Given this backdrop, the union wants procedures put in place which will allow status codes, that reflect identity concerns, removed in a much more flexible and realistic manner.

Adding to the problem, from a union perspective, is the fact that DAERA seems keen on putting processers centre stage when it comes to resolving these matters.

Deputy President Victor Chestnutt said the UFU's message throughout had been that DAERA needs to work with farmers to find speedy solutions to identity queries.

“DAERA's rigid approach is overly bureaucratic, creating unnecessary frustration for farmers," he said.

When DAERA is unwilling to resolve identity queries, the movement of cattle is restricted. They can only go direct for slaughter. This is limiting farmers' marketing options, potentially reducing the animal’s value while creating practical problems on the farm.

The UFU wants flexibility more from DAERA. It believes this would allow the majority of identity queries to be resolved quickly on the farm, and without risk to the integrity of traceability.

“Farmers here keep detailed herd records and we have a world-leading traceability system that should allow for mistakes to be corrected. A common sense solution from DAERA could maintain the traceability of our cattle, while ensuring as many as possible secure their full value from the market,” said Chestnutt.