Credibility of UK 's farm assurance programme undermined by cavalier attitudes in Republic of Ireland

UK - UK farm assurance credentials are being seriously undermined by Bord Bia's refusal to disclose the proportion of Irish production covered by its Beef Quality Assurance Scheme (BQAS) and supermarket unwillingness to properly examine the due diligence credentials of imported Irish beef.
calendar icon 16 October 2006
clock icon 3 minute read

So says the National Beef Association which fears consumers could be misled by inaccurate claims about Irish farm assurance cover at the same time as UK farmers are prevented from reaping the benefits of being an authenticated source of high provenance and high integrity cattle.

“Over 80 per cent of the UK's beef farmers have jumped through many costly, and time consuming, hoops to satisfy inspectors and qualify for their assurance certificate but in the Republic of Ireland only an estimated eight per cent of farmers have so far qualified for BQAS and supermarkets, which require 35 per cent of Irish production to fill their shelves, have still to cut back their orders,” explained NBA chief executive, Robert Forster .

“From the beef farmer's point of view the major justification of farm assurance is that it gives his cattle an edge on the market as well as a chance to take first position in the retail selection queue and earn a price premium ahead of all non-assured beef – including imports.”

“Unfortunately they are being denied these benefits because of complacency over the integrity of Irish deliveries which is already prompting farm assurance specialists to question the justification of further promotion of farm assurance within the UK if the non-assured imports continue to be accepted.”

Nor is the NBA the only organization that is worried by the failure of Bord Bia to secure adequate farm assurance cover for beef delivered to UK supermarkets.

“All the UK groups, Assured British Meat, Farm Assured Welsh Livestock, the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme in Northern Ireland and Quality Meat Scotland are uneasy about developments in the Republic of Ireland ,” said Mr Forster.

“And the European Commission has also been asked to find out whether UK supermarkets can feel confident Irish imports are farm assured and meet their product traceability requirements.”

According to the NBA confidence in farm assurance is being further undermined by contradictory statements from Bord Bia .

“Even though it will not respond to written NBA enquiries first made on August 21 st Bord Bia is being questioned by journalists and is giving some wildly different answers,” said Mr Forster.

“It has told one newspaper that UK supermarkets require 35 per cent of its production, then it said that only 6,500 farms are BQAS accredited but these account for 50 per cent of production, and just last Friday it went on to claim BQAS covers three or four times the production required by UK supermarkets and those in other EU countries.”

“The NBA has analysed Irish farm structures and noted there are around 84,600 farms carrying beef cattle that are over one year old and that UK supermarkets would require beef from around 487,500 head.”

“If importers of Irish beef could get that number of cattle from just 6,500 farms then the average number on each accredited farm would have to be 75 head when the national average is about 14 head.”

“And if Bord Bia's figure of 6,500 farms is correct then only eight per cent of Irish farms are BQAS covered and it is asking people to strain their credibility to eye popping levels if it wants them to believe that 50 per cent of Irish production can be lifted from such a small number of farms.”

“In Northern Ireland , where farm structures are almost exactly similar, 38 per cent of farms, or around 32,148 holdings would be needed to provide the 50 per cent of production Bord Bia claims to have pocketed already.”

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