08/12/2009

What's The Beef Over Flags?

There's a row brewing over labelling for Irish beef products - but it's a flag-flying exercise that's more about hard cash and profit than anything political.

The National Beef Association has warned Assured Food Standards (AFS) of the dangers of allowing beef produced in the British Isles - which includes the Republic of Ireland (ROI) as well as the UK - to be sold under the Red Tractor quality mark in UK retail stores.

While AFS says it understands the argument that the only flag to accompany the official 'Red Tractor' logo should be the Union Jack, the Association is worried about attempts by organisations in the Irish Republic to blur the distinction between British (UK) and Irish beef by negotiating terms which would allow heavily discounted beef from the ROI to be sold under the same in-store label as the British product.

It has told AFS, which regulates the placement of the Red Tractor, that, if the well known British assurance mark was allowed to cover beef from cattle produced and processed in the Republic of Ireland, it would mean beef from cattle bred, reared, and processed in the UK could immediately lose its valuable retail premium – which currently translates as a slaughter price bonus of almost 14%.

"The NBA is aware of moves in the Republic to overcome heavy downward price pressure on its prime cattle market by powerful Anglo-Irish interests by encouraging beef from cattle bred in both counties to be sold in the same retail pack – and we are pleased AFS has told us it is doing nothing to encourage these discussions," explained Association Director, Kim Haywood.

"It is important for influential bodies, like Assured Food Standards, to understand that such a move would be a disaster for the UK beef industry because the current cross-UK average for R4L steers and heifers is around 280p, compared with just 240p for cattle of exactly the same weight and specification produced in the ROI, which creates a premium for the average UK finisher of £136 a head on 340 kilo carcase.

"This is an advantage the UK industry cannot afford to squander and we are pleased that AFS is now aware of the dangers that would immediately be triggered if the Red Tractor was ever used by beef industry interests in the ROI or other countries as well.

"AFS has reassured the NBA that recent state aid funding approval, conferred by the European Commission, has not influenced its approach to the Red Tractor cover being extended to production systems beyond the UK.

"It is also heartening to know that over the last ten years any non-UK country which has made an approach about using the Red Tractor backed off quickly as soon as it realised what would be demanded of it," she said, noting that the NBA - which was worried that the EU's new State Aid rules would allow the logo to be used on products from any other EU country - believes it is of the utmost importance that the only flag that accompanies the Red Tractor is the Union Jack.

(BMcC/KMcA)

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