Tesco beef ban: Irish Farmers' Association defends pursuit of 'all-Ireland' label
The Irish Farmers' Association has defended its pursuit of a new 'all-Ireland' labelling system to get beef flowing into Northern Ireland from the Republic again – despite an outright rejection of the proposal by Tesco.
Beef imported from the south and slaughtered in the north cannot be labelled with a single country of origin.
On Friday, Stormont Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill approved the scheme to allow for a local beef processor to use the term 'Irish' for cattle imported from the south and finished in the north.
However, Tesco said it has had no intention to source the "mixed-origin" beef.
Tesco group's commercial director, Kevin Grace, said that the retailer was "proud" to sell beef that was either from Northern Ireland or the Republic, but its research "consistently" showed that customers did not want meat from mixed origins.
Tesco's policy has had serious economic consequences. Some 40,000 calves, weanlings and store cattle were exported to Northern Ireland in 2010, but this is down to just 6,265 animals this year.
Despite Tesco's refusal to buy beef that has crossed the border, IFA livestock chairman Henry Burns maintained that the approval of a new label by Stormont was a significant breakthrough.
"A month ago there was no solutions on the table. Now we have something that provides an opportunity to make this work," he said.
Processors such as Foyle Meats, that have traditionally relied on southern-born cattle, are expected to push a labelling concept that is designed to offer consumers a simple message that the meat is Irish, while at the same time complying with EU regulations by specifying that the animals were born in the Republic of Ireland, but reared and slaughtered in the UK.
Since the horsemeat crisis last year, British retailers have tightened up supply chains to make them shorter and more transparent. As a result 'nomad' cattle reared in the south for slaughter in Northern Ireland are now being penalised by up to £150 a head in processing plants.