Farmers' union criticises move to import Polish beef

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

Image source, Getty Images

The Ulster Farmers' Union has criticised a Northern Ireland meat processor for selling imported Polish beef to shops here during the coronavirus crisis.

It said the decision by Ballymena-based Doherty and Gray was putting the livelihoods of local producers at risk.

But the company refuted claims that it had "disregarded local farmers".

Beef farmers have reported a reduction prices for their cattle of up to £75 a head as the lockdown hits consumption.

Doherty and Gray said it sourced lots of Northern Ireland produced beef and would continue to pay the best possible price for it.

It's the second time the issue has flared up in recent weeks.

'Competitive prices'

Earlier this month the UFU criticised Irish-owned processor ABP and supermarkets ASDA and Sainsburys after Polish beef was imported and sold in GB supermarkets.

On this occasion the UFU said it had been contacted by members who' had seen steaks of Polish beef selling at very competitive prices in butcher shops.

"Our farmers are doing their best to provide food at this difficult time and they deserve respect for this, not to be undermined by cheap imports," a statement said.

"We urge all local retailers and butchers to seriously consider their beef sourcing policies. Now more than ever there is a greater need to support your local beef farmers who are facing unprecedented challenges as a result of Covid-19."

Image source, Getty Images

The union has raised its concerns with the Doherty and Gray.

The company said as well as supplying shops it also had a commercial division which traded in beef and pork products from across the EU.

"All of these products are clearly identified and sold as product from the country of origin.

'High quality local produce'

"In 66 years of business Doherty and Gray has always prided themselves in supporting and promoting the high quality local produce supplied by Northern Ireland farmers."

The closure of restaurants, bars, hotels, work canteens and fast food outlets has seen the collapse of major markets for beef, dairy and other produce.

Northern Ireland's agri-food industry has called for government support similar to that offered by other sectors.

But the bill will be so big that it would require intervention by either the UK Treasury or the EU.