Northern Ireland (NI) agriculture minister, Michelle O’Neill, has called for cooperation on an All-Ireland basis to address producer concerns following the introduction of new EU regulations on Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL).
While the immediate issue relates to problems surrounding the sheep sector, the broader principle raised by the minister is designed to “encourage major retailers and food service businesses, across the island and beyond, to accept all-Ireland origin products”.
“Traditionally, we have a healthy north-south lamb trade which has benefited the industry across Ireland,” said Ms O’Neill. “However, the introduction of new EU labelling rules, appears to have adversely affected farmers in the north, with some processors reluctant to accept their lambs. Through discussions with farming and processor representatives, my officials have been assessing the impact of the new regulation and other contributing factors, such as the euro/sterling exchange rate.”
Pledging that she would continue to work with the industry and stakeholders in the north and with senior figures in Dublin, London and Brussels in an effort to find a solution, the minister added: “I have raised the issue with Minister Coveney (the Republic’s farm minister) and we have tasked officials with looking at whether we can agree additional voluntary label(s) which would support the industry across the island and also improve the information available to the customer. Furthermore, I would encourage major retailers and food service businesses, across the island and beyond, to accept all-Ireland origin products.
“My officials have also had discussions with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the north and with British food officials on the impact of country of origin labelling and the scope for solutions, including voluntary labelling.”
Ms O’Neill also said she would be writing to the Secretary of State at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Liz Truss, to highlight the difficulties for the NI industry and to emphasise the need for maximum flexibility in labelling products from the north.
“I have already raised this issue face to face with EU commissioner, Phil Hogan, and I am determined to continue lobbying the Commission,” she said. “I will highlight the inherent problems of the labelling regulations and will robustly make the case for our unique circumstances to be taken into consideration.”