[Sinn Fein]

14th March 2003

Sinn Fein meet Livestock Meat Commission

Sinn Fein Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA Gerry McHugh, South Down MLA Mick Murphy and Fermanagh Councillor Stephen Huggett met with LMC Chief Executive David Rutledge and Phelim O'Niell and Mike Tempest from the LMC in Enniskillen on Thursday 13th March.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Murphy said:

``Sinn Fein are engaged in a continual process of discussion with all of the stakeholders in the Agriculture industry in order to build a common consensus on how we face the key issues affecting the industry.

``There are many key issues facing all sides within farming. We raised a range of issues with the LMC representatives including: Farm Quality Assurance; Beef Quality; EU Beef Labelling; Marketing; Exports; Producer Prices; De-coupling; the CAP Midterm Review; the Impact of Decoupling and Modulation; Beef Prices; the Beef Export Ban; Branding; and OTMS

``In particular we wanted to hear from the LMC how they would progress the issue of farm quality assured livestock at farm level and if they thought there would be an increase in EU regulation in this area.

``FQAS currently has around 11,000 members with a target to include all farmers. The demands from processors and retail multiples require us to move towards farm quality assured for the lifetime of the animals. This is worth an extra 10 per animal for export prices, with a target date of April 2006. However, supermarket multiples don't want non farm quality assured beef for their retail outlets. They also told us, that as politicians, we should be demanding from government that the beef labelling standards that presently apply to retail should be demanded from the catering trade where FQAS are not required at present.

``The LMC said there was a need for equal standards to be applied in relation to produce from outside and as local producers. They stated that it would be hypercritical of government to use anything other than quality assured meat when tendering for schools, hospitals and all government departments and agencies when procuring food.

``FQAS may also be a requirement of cross compliance measures being introduced by Franz Fischler. Farmers can make use of a four to six week training programme in the run up to becoming involved in the FQAS.

``The LMC said that they believe this is the only direction we can go in the future if they are to remain competitive with others on quality beef production. They also highlighted the impact of the 1996 beef export ban which was very damaging and resulted in the loss of half our markets, including the successful green fields brand sold to the Albert Hine Group. The LMC predicted that we should fully be back into exports by the end of this year.

``Sinn Fein questioned the LMC about price differentials as in the published LMC bulletin. However they claimed that we continue to receive higher prices for beef here than in the South, and that we also must export three quarters of all we produce, 80% of which is sold on the British market, which are net importers. The LMC claimed that they don't control prices and are only able to try and ensure that our beef and lamb is sold in the best markets.

``There was common agreement that one of our greatest challenges is to promote beef locally through working with schools, restaurants and many other groupings. There was also agreement that any changes to OTMS should be phased in as the introduction of over 30mths cattle subject to test would increase supply by 20% which would seriously damage prices received by producers. These changes are proposed by the Food Standards Agency that is believed to have come from pressure form the exchequer to cut the cost of the OTMS.

``Probably the biggest development for the future of beef or lamb production here is the issue of the CAP midterm review and the impact of de-coupling as this could seriously reduce the number of suckler cows and also the availability of animals from the dairy herd.''

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