There is something fundamentally wrong with Bord Bia’s quality assurance (QA) scheme for Irish beef if Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue is unable to provide the Dáil with the QA data for animals at slaughter and that sold from Irish meat plants, according to Denis Naughten TD.

He said the lack of QA data “brings into question the whole ethos behind the marketing, promotion and sale of Irish beef once it leaves this country”.

“It seems to me that when a carcase spends 60 minutes in the back of a truck, it is quality assured.”

Naughten made his comments in a question on the matter put to Minister McConalogue in the Dáil on Thursday.

Reconciliation figure

The Roscommon-Galway TD asked the Fianna Fáil Minister if he could provide the Bord Bia “reconciliation figure” used to match quality assured cattle at slaughter with quality assured meat sold from plants.

Minister McConalogue said that the Department of Agriculture does not categorise cattle slaughtering by quality assured or non-quality assured, track whether a bonus is paid to farmers or track the tonnage of quality-assured beef exported. He suggested the question be put to Bord Bia directly.

“This is a commercial transaction between the farmer and the meat processor. However, Bord Bia has confirmed that the vast majority of all beef processed in Ireland comes from quality-assured farms.”

Responding to this, Naughten said: “If something is not monitored, it does not happen.”

Market importance

Minister McConalogue said: “[QA] gives assurance to customers as to provenance and how the product is produced.

“Having a verification audit of quality assurance strengthens our overall product. It has been an important plank on which we have developed our beef sector over recent years.

“In the meetings we have with existing customers for Irish beef, we see how important quality assurance and providing verification to their customers are for them in making purchasing decisions."

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said Bord Bia QA verification strengthens the export market for Irish beef.

Naughten said: “I accept the importance of providing [QA] verification to customers. However, the Minister has been asked to provide that verification to parliament and he cannot do that.

“There is something fundamentally wrong with the system if he cannot provide parliament with the figures that he says are being provided to customers.”

The Independent TD said the lack of information brings into question the whole ethos behind the marketing, promotion and sale of Irish beef once it leaves Ireland.

Base price

Naughten said: “Clearly, quality assurance is not being prioritised by the meat plants. It is not being prioritised in terms of getting a return to the farmer.

“It seems to me that the quality assurance bonus that farmers are getting is the base price and those who are not achieving the Bord Bia standards are facing cuts in the prices they are being paid.”

He sought clarity on why the Department is asking suckler farmers to sign up to the Bord Bia QA scheme.

“The vast majority of suckler farmers do not finish cattle. They do not get a quality assurance payment for culled cows, which are usually the only animals they bring to a processing facility."

He said the Bord Bia QA scheme does not transfer from farm to farm and that animals have to be left for 60 days.

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