Beef cattle standing at gate©FLPA/Angela Hampton/Rex Shutterstock

Farm leaders in Northern Ireland are pushing government officials to apply for a change in BSE status in a bid to increase beef prices.

The Ulster Farmers Union has asked the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard) to make an application to the World Health organisation for “BSE negligible risk status”.

Northern Ireland, as with the rest of the UK and Ireland, is currently considered to be a “controlled BSE risk” area.

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The union believes applying for a change in status is the best way to gain access to new markets, which will return more money to farmers.

The beef price in Northern Ireland is much lower than across the rest of the UK. Steer prices in the UK are currently averaging 344p/kg dw, compared with 320p/kg dw in Northern Ireland.

“There is only one chance to do this each year. This is why a concerted effort must be made by Dard to make this happen,” said Ivor Ferguson, deputy president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. 

“Our industry has worked hard to get into a position where we can supply a product that meets world-leading standards. However, we are being held back by the stigma associated with BSE as we try to access new markets.”

A decision on whether to change the risk status of a country is taken in May each year.