NI Task Force calls for level playing field

The Northern Ireland Meat Task Force called on politicians for a level playing field with its competitors yesterday.

The Northern Meat Task Force called on politicians for a level playing field with its competitors yesterday.

Speaking after the Red Meat Seminar, organised by the Northern Ireland Assembly Agricultural Committiee, David Rutledge, chief executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission for NI, said: "One of the most prominent issues that came out of today was that our Task force believes we do not have a level playing field with our competitors."

He cited the example of failing to get approval from the European Commission for Herculex (a GMO maize variety), which the NI agriculture industry estimated had cost it £50m in one year. "The question we put to politicians is what purpose has this delay served when the product is freely available on the market allowing our competitors who use it to undercut us."

Rutledge added that the NI industry had also noted that politicians were calling for more exacting standards from the home meat industry than its competitors and cited the short-term ban on Brazilian beef. "Brazil had 11 reports in five years requiring action by Brazilian authorities and for five years they did nothing. I asked the question whether a NI or GB processor in a similar situation would have been allowed to ignore regulatory requirements for five years."

He continued: "This not an issue on whether the standards should be there or not but about the need for equal standards whether it be on GMO, environment or animal health."

The question about whether the market was right in rewarding suckler beef the same as dairy beef was also posed. "Unless there is a significant differential between dairy and suckler beef then the market is favouring dairy beef. We want the market to explore implications of that. Would those producers producing for the suckler market be better at applying their resources, land, labour and capital to other activities as under decoupling they do have other options," said Rutledge.