The beef sector have warned of the ‘serious’ damage which could be inflicted on a sector already struggling with low returns.
Farming groups have warned of the ‘serious damage’ which could be inflicted on an already struggling beef sector after the EU reached agreement with the South American Mercosur trading bloc.
While it was uncertain how the UK would be affected due to Brexit, unions have demanded detail on how the European Commission would ensure domestic standards were not undermined.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) said it was ‘another huge blow’ with the industry sacrificed so the car industry could gain access to South American markets with huge concern over generous beef quotas.
UFU president Ivor Ferguson highlighted food production in Mercosur countries was ‘very different’ to Northern Ireland.
“It happens on a significantly larger scale and has much lower environmental and welfare standards.
“The increased environmental impact elsewhere in the world means the EU is essentially exporting its environmental responsibilities, which is morally questionable.”
He said it created a double standard and an uneven playing field for farmers, with inputs much higher in Northern Ireland and the UK.
“Our farmers will struggle to contend with cheaper food imports and there is the very real risk we’ll be pushed out of, what is an already, fiercely competitive market,” he said.
He added the generous quotas for beef were ‘reckless’ with the EU market on the verge of being oversupplied and the deal undermined the industries hard work.
NFU EU exit and international trade adviser Tom Keen said it was vital the Government was clear how this deal sat in the potential scenarios of the UK’s exit from the EU.
And he added members would be concerned by the scale of access granted to South American countries for a number of key agricultural products produced in the UK.
“The NFU has always been explicit that the UK’s international trade policy must respect our own high domestic production standards,” he said.
He said they wanted clarity on how the deal will achieve a level playing field in practice and where the opportunities may lie in exporting British produce to the Mercosur countries.
NFU Scotland livestock committee chairman Jimmy Ireland said the deal had the potential to seriously damage the Scottish beef sector and must be ‘avoided at all costs’.
He said: “At a time when issues like the environment and food production has never been more important to consumers, politicians need to recognise this and not relinquish our moral responsibilities by allowing increased imports from halfway across the world.”
The poultry sector has also warned of the implications, with the Association of Poultry Processors and Poultry Trade in EU countries (AVEC) declaring the sector felt betrayed by the decision to grant permission to import double the amount of Mercosur poultry meat.
It said it seemed the EU Commission was telling it the industry’s efforts on welfare, food safety and the environment were ‘useless’ as it was happy to import meat with lower standards.