The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA) has withdrawn from the Food Vision beef and sheep group.

The decision of the hill farmer representative organisation was delivered on Friday at a meeting of the stakeholder body.

The INHFA cited serious concerns around recommendations from the Food Vision grouping that the average slaughter age of beef cattle should be reduced to 24 months.

The association also maintained that it could not support proposals to cut the overall size of the national suckler herd or to reduce the average age of first calving for beef cows to 24 months.

The Food Vision beef and sheep group is tasked with agreeing a roadmap for the drystock sector to reduce carbon emissions so as to meet the national ceilings set by Government.

'Effectively a cull'

However, the INHFA claimed that the proposals from the stakeholder group relating to diversification and extensification of beef and sheep production was effectively a cull of the suckler herd.

“We cannot and should not proceed [with a reduction in suckler cow numbers] without a socio-economic assessment relating to the farming system and the wider rural economy that these farming systems support,” the INHFA stated in a letter to the chair of the stakeholder group.

How can we continue to promote naturally reared suckler beef ... while promoting a cull

The INHFA warned of the potential for “reputational damage” if Ireland proceeded with “a cull” of suckler cows.

“How can we continue to promote naturally reared suckler beef in markets throughout Europe and beyond while promoting a cull in order to deliver on climate change targets?

"If we as an organisation agree to this, we are effectively saying that our suckler system is polluting,” the INHFA maintained.

Moreover, the INHFA argued that reducing the age of slaughter down to 24 months risked undermining suckler and extensive farming systems and was not attainable for many farmers.

The organisation claimed there were “inherent risks” associated with this measure.

These include:

  • Potential beef price manipulation by factories, particularly in spring, resulting from pressure on slaughtering.
  • Fears that the 24-month slaughter age could become a mandatory requirement in any future suckler support scheme.
  • Concerns that the 24-month slaughter age could become a requirement for Bord Bia certification.
  • 'Not realistic'

    With regard to attempts to move to a 24-month average first-calving age for beef heifers, the INHFA claimed that is not achievable in an extensive farming model.

    “While this may be possible in intensive farming systems, whereby the heifer is intensively fed through a meal feeding programme, for many suckler farmers often operating on fragmented holdings, this option is not realistic.

    "And for many more, they have no desire to pursue this option and see it as counter-productive in reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the INHFA said.

    Commenting on the association’s decision to pull out of the stakeholder body, INHFA president Vincent Roddy said: “There are a number of issues here that we can’t accept and we have to represent the interests of our members who are primarily extensive farmers.”