22 March 2002

Irish moving to

sell beef under

British logo

By Johann Tasker

ITS not so much a Trojan horse as a Trojan tractor: Irish farmers believe their beef could be labelled British and sold in Britain under the British Farm Standards Little Red Tractor logo. It would be reared in the Republic of Ireland, slaughtered in Northern Ireland and then shipped across the Irish Sea and into British supermarkets.

The idea is the brainchild of the Donegal Beef Producers Group. Fed up with low beef prices, group members are applying to join the Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS). Once in the scheme, they believe they will have access to the more lucrative British market and will also be able to use the tractor logo.

"The application forms have arrived and we have been told that it will take about month to process them after they have been completed," Donegal group co-ordinator Austin Stevenson told FARMERS WEEKLY. "I would have thought that 70-80 of our 150 members will be signed up within weeks."

Irish beef prices have slumped. Cattle prices in Donegal are languishing at the equivalent of about 168p/kg deadweight. In Britain, where the tractor logo helps farmers sell beef at a premium, prices are about 175p/kg deadweight – about £25 more for a 300kg carcass.

Mr Stevenson acknowledged that British farmers might be annoyed with his plan. But he added: "We already sell beef into Northern Ireland and we are getting a bad price because it is not farm assured. We have no intention of dumping our beef on Britain – we are just a group of farmers who want to get the best price we can for our livestock."

The FQAS scheme is administered by the Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland. Scheme manager Mike Tempest confirmed that he been approached by Donegal farmers who wanted to join the scheme. He said: "Theres nothing I can do to keep them out. European rules say geographical origin is not a reason for rejection."

David Clarke, chief executive of Assured Food Standards, which oversees the British Farm Standard scheme, said he would have to talk to Dr Tempest before he could say whether it would be possible that Irish beef could be sold under the British tractor logo. The situation was not as simple as it might first appear, he added.

"Membership of an assurance scheme is one thing, use of the logo is another. Farmers cannot dictate what label goes on their meat because abattoirs and retailers have a say as well. It is not an automatic progression that meat which is entitled to join an assurance scheme will be entitled to use the tractor logo." &#42