Northern Ireland

NI Agriculture: Westminster committee wants explanation over low red meat prices for farmers

Red meat
Image caption The findings are part of a report on an environment, food and rural affairs committee inquiry into farmgate prices in the dairy and red meat sectors

Retailers must to do more to explain why farmers in Northern Ireland get the lowest price for their red meat, a Westminster committee has said.

And dairy farmers must not be the victims of a "supermarket price war" where milk is sold cheap to attract customers.

The findings are part of a report on an environment, food and rural affairs committee inquiry into farmgate prices in the dairy and red meat sectors.

The report was published on Wednesday.

The committee began the inquiry in September 2015.

This was amid concerns over price volatility and the impact on the farming industry.

The Ulster Farmers' Union gave evidence to the inquiry that the price differential was costing beef farmers in Northern Ireland at least £17m in lost revenue, even though the meat was produced to the same standard.

The committee found that regions which got a lower price were "more vulnerable to external price shocks".

And it said that claims from retailers, that there were "sustainable economic reasons" justifying the price differences, "have not been fully accepted by many farmers".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The committee said promises about milk prices had to be followed up with action

It called on retailers to do more to explain the reasons and ensure their prices were fair.

On dairy prices, the committee said farmers must not be caught in the middle of a "supermarket war".

It said that while those who supplied milk to the supermarkets on contracts were guaranteed a price for their milk, "the chronic low price of milk sold through supermarkets inevitably disadvantages farmers in the longer term".

Imports

It said promises about milk prices had to be followed up with action, and progress had been uneven among the supermarkets.

It added that the situation for dairy farmers in Northern Ireland was particularly difficult, because three quarters of milk produced here was exported as milk powder and it did not have the same reliance on the liquid milk market.

The committee found that much of the volatility around prices was due to global factors such as the Russian ban on EU food and the downturn in the Chinese economy.

It also said a strong pound had made imports cheaper.

The committee urged farmers to come together in producer organisations to increase their bargaining power.

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