Minister green lights ‘Irish Beef’ label just as southern beef farmers lunge into crisis…

Unfortunate timing for the Agriculture Minister’s new labelling ‘concession’ for so-called ‘nomadic beef’. In Michelle O’Neill’s own terms, here’s the ‘problem’…

I am of the strong view that the term ‘nomad cattle’ has no place on this island and following discussions with industry stakeholders and Minister Coveney in the south, I am hopeful that this issue can be resolved.

“This has been a problem for some time because cattle imported from the south and slaughtered in the north cannot be labelled with a single country of origin. Beef from these animals has a lower market value than cattle which are born, reared and slaughtered here, due to the reluctance of retailers to source dual origin cattle.”

The Minister added: “The ability to label beef derived from such cattle as “Irish” will hopefully open new market opportunities with British retailers for local processors. It should also assist the long standing tradition of trading cattle across the island of Ireland, particularly store cattle coming from the west of Ireland for finishing and slaughter in the north.”

So why’s it bad timing? Well, two reasons. Meat which is sourced across two separate regulatory regimes is really not popular with the big retailers. No matter what’s called, if it is to be sold within the EU it will still be labelled nomadic, which consumers mistrust.

Eh, what’s this nomadic thing then? That’s where beef imported from the south and slaughtered in in Northern Ireland cannot be labelled with a single country of origin. As this is the result of EU wide regulation Ms O’Neill’s scheme won’t change that in primary beef markets. Farming Life explains:

Store cattle imported from the south for finishing and slaughter in the north will be labelled “Born in Ireland; Reared in Ireland/UK; Slaughtered in UK”. Beef from finished cattle imported for immediate slaughter must be labelled “Born in Ireland; Reared in Ireland; Slaughtered in UK”.

And the other reason that this is poor timing? In fact, Northern Irish beef farmers have done rather well out of the horse meat crisis. Prices are rising, and in the rest of the UK they are beginning to stablise. In the Republic they are massively falling.

So what’s this Irish label thing about then? Well, it’s about marketing really. There are several references in the press to ‘hopefully opening new markets for local processors’. Those markets are necessarily outside the EU, because inside there is no way to conceal the nomadic status.

And where’s all this come from? Well, now there is a genuine crisis for beef farmers in the south. The crunch came as export markets changed the conditions under which they would buy Irish beef. As George Lee notes “British retailers are increasing their preference for British beef and changing the specifications of the beef they are willing to buy”.

Last night Padraig Browne of Dunbia told farmers that some British retailers are “already imposing an even lower age limit for bull beef than the 16-month limit imposed last October with some imposing 14-month or 12-month limits”, whilst..

IFA President Eddie Downey said that a 14-month age limit for bull beef would be nonsense. He said no Irish farmer could have a grass-fed animal ready by that age. However, Mr Browne said it is already being done in the UK.

Since the UK (including NI) represents 53% of Republic’s export market for beef, you can see the scale of the problem. Minister Coveney has only just got access to the US and China after the BSE crisis. Ms O’Neill has opened an agreement with S Africa, which would allow the sale of nomadic beef as Irish (possibly worth £5-10 million).

Right now, Northern Irish farmers are insulated from the troubles of their southern colleagues because northern beef is clearly labelled as produced in the UK and in consequence are seeing their prices rise.

In actual fact in the short term there is very little the northern Minister can do to aid this southern crisis. This ‘voluntary scheme’ (which few northern producer are likely to take take up), has the distinct look and feel of someone in government trying to look busy by looking annoyed and shuffling some paper clips.

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  • Michael Henry

    Yet Minister O’Neill said that the meat and Pork here is now sourced as from across the Island of Ireland and could generate £10 million Annually from South Africa alone- never mind from the rest of the world -and the Minister said that this will be build on- this is only a very recent development so we should be prepared to let Minister O’Neill prove her departments success- she is hardly a minister shuffling some paper clips- She is bringing home the beef- and making a success out of exporting it and pork-

  • mickfealty

    JUst to be clear, the deal is worth 5-10 million for Northern Ireland farmers. That you might be able to package some southern reared cattle into that is a possibility. In 2010 the overall value of cattle exports was €1.5 billion.

  • Michael Henry

    Japan has ended its 12 year ban against Irish Beef-and Irish beef could also be on US retail shelves soon-The Minister knows what she is doing-the short term future will tell us the truth-

  • chrisjones2

    “Well, it’s about marketing really.”

    I assume that its about Marketing SF. What it does again is try and impose an Irish label on something that many don’t believe is Irish. And how odd to do it just as the TV is awash with adverts for NI Farm Assured produce.

    What was Gerry saying last week about parity of esteem

    Again – SF emilate 1960s unionists

  • chrisjones2

    Dream on …what about all those dead poisoned horse mussels and huge EU fines for inaction and incompetence in DARD

  • chrisjones2

    Oh do grow up. It will show noting but more SF press releases and the attempt to undermine any suggestion that farmers can be unionist as well

  • Croiteir

    I see SF are way behind the times – can anyone recall Ian Paisley standing up in a Strasbourg plenary session concerning the banning of British beef due to the BSE scandal and saying “Mr President, the people of Ulster are British but the cows are Irish and should therefore be exempt from the ban”.
    What is up now? Have the cattle of Ulster had a vote and partitioned themselves from the fenian cattle in the south?
    Or is this just someone trying to make mischief for Sinn Fein and the Irish beef trade?

  • Gingray

    Mick, just noticing something about how you style Sinn Fein Ministers compared to those of other parties, North, South and elsewhere.

    “Minister Coveney has only just got access to the US and China after the BSE crisis. Ms O’Neill has opened an agreement with S Africa, which would allow the sale of nomadic beef as Irish (possibly worth £5-10 million)”

    Any reason why SF dont get called Minister in this, and other blogs, while you fall over yourself to use the title for people from other parties?

  • Turgon

    An interesting observation. I decided to look at it: though got bored after going back through Mick’s posts till June (you can tell I am on holiday). When Mick refers to a Stormont or Westminster minister he tends to use either their name and not use ‘Minister’ as a title. He does this for ministers of all parties and devolved administrations of the UK as indeed do most UK correspondents about UK politicians.

    Maybe in the RoI as in the USA the convention is to call them Minister O’Neill or whatever.

    The difference is one of jurisdiction. The Americans refer to President Obama. We refer to the Prime Minister David Cameron.

    I am afraid it seems as boring as that. I am sure there are a few exceptions but that seems the most likely explanation. Then again do not let such a simple explanation get in the way of a Mick is out to get the Shinners conspiracy theory.

  • Gingray

    Turgon, interesting that you and I can go back through the same posts and draw different conclusions (I too am on holiday and this is a happy diversion from wallpaper stripping). There are actually quite a few exceptions to your theory and they tend to be in posts like this one were the subject is SF – with the exceptions being no title for SF, with a title for the rest regardless of jurisdiction.

    Its hardly a conspiracy theory to suggest that since Mick only posts about SF in the negative (you have read few quite a few of his posts, can you spot any that are positive?) he maynot like them. A very hard party to like, and he is not alone. And perhaps that is why he treats them differently from the other parties he rarely posts about.

  • mickfealty


    If I may cite the first line of the post in my defence…

    Unfortunate timing for the Agriculture Minister’s new labelling ‘concession’ for so-called ‘nomadic beef’

    Now what about discussing the utility or otherwise of agreeing an Irish Beef label that no one in the industry wants to use?

  • plenty of pork from Stormont.

  • kensei

    So is this an accurate summary?
    The UK beef price is high because UK Supermarkets are focusing on British beef. The Irish price is low because of the same reasons. The minister has negotiated some ways that beef reared in the South and processed in the North or vice versa can be sold as Irish. This isn’t going to have a large impact in the short term, but might help some producers at the margins and isn’t actively harmful. There is some potential that this revenue stream could grow in future.

    Where the beef in the story is, I’m not entirely sure. As others have pointed out, the farmers here benefit from the flexibility of being labelled as either and while being British is advantageous now, another crisis (see BSE) might mean it is advantageous to be seen as Irish. It also seems reasonable that a party espousing unity might look for practical ways to eliminate the border. This isn’t coercive, seems politically uncontroversial (there are a notable lack of quotes form unionists complaining in this article) and doesn’t seem to be particularly wasteful but the efficiency of it remains to be seen.

    Now, I now precisely bugger all about agricultural policy, and maybe someone would like to enlighten me on a a better way to do things. I imagine the department and minister are perfectly capable op doing more than one thing at a time, so just doing it isn’t in itself a bad thing. If they are not, I suspect that’d be more to do with SF political and policy stances than anything to do with this in particular.

    Just seems like there is a slugger narrative, and everything gets bunged into it. If SF do nothing relating to the border they get a kick; if they try some practical measures they get a kick. The narrative is usually about SF getting a kick.

  • mickfealty

    The ‘beef’ is in the title. The ‘meat’ is in the post. Notwithstanding your point about knowing bugger all about agricultural policy, I’d say you know a bit more about it now. Isn’t that a win?

    My point about SF is consistent. There’s no policy content here or in the suggestion that St Mary’s High School, Brollagh might be rescued by attracting cross border students.

    In this case it’s about the fleg; it’s not about improving the situation for farmers.

    Now, as I point out in the OP, I am not sure what Michelle can do about this situation. Poor regulation in the south has cast a shadow over the production of meat in the south which means that selling ‘Irish Beef’ is a disincentive to NI farmers.

    In any case, are you actually asking me to tell you less about the actual situation in order to avoid the repetitive accusation of Slugger bias?

    That’s not how it works…

  • kensei

    So are SF not allowed to pursue nationalist goals? If the initial driver is “the fleg” (:rolleyes:) but it (1) does no harm (2) offers the chance at potential or future gains (small or otherwise) why can’t they justifiable pursue that policy? They are a nationalist party and voted on that basis. It’s entirely justifiable for them to look at places to minimise the impact of the border or may have long term effects.

    Michelle could try and other cross border assistance or guidance to help with quality problems – perhaps work with her Southern counterpart to have some sort of voluntary unified standard that combines the best of both regimes. Maybe she could use her experience to feed into the Southern SF manifesto. Obviously impact is limited. That doesn’t mean this is a bad idea per se though. As a number of people have pointed out, the UK could have a damaging health crisis tomorrow.

    We should have a sensible policy on cross border education provision rather than a discussion on a single school.

    A cute question Mick. My response is opportunity cost. You could spend time writing articles telling me the Irish weather is awful. You could spend time writing articles stating SF are trying to minimise the border. Unless there is actually something significant there (good or bad) I think I’d rather have you spend your time writing something else.

    Hell, have a coffee and relax a bit.

  • Reader

    kensei: My response is opportunity cost.
    Indeed – doesn’t the Minister have higher priority tasks for herself and her senior staff?

  • mickfealty

    Already ahead of you, cooking pizza for dinner. It is what it is. If you’re not interested in examing what ministers actually do with their brief, that’s fine with me. But it’s not a crime against the peace process if someone else is.

    Or did I miss the memo?

  • kensei

    Never said it was a crime. I just said when you dig in there wasn’t very much story there.

    If your ambition is to be a blog equivalent of Hansard, grand.

  • kensei

    I invited suggestions for alternatives and pointed out the department can do more than one thing at a time.

    Thanks for your comment though.

  • mickfealty

    “when you dig in there wasn’t very much story there.”

    Which is kinda the point of the blog…