Cooperation Is Key To Tackling Country Of Origin Labelling Issue Says O’Neill

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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today said that cooperation across the island of Ireland is vital in addressing the recent issues facing lamb farmers after the introduction of new EU regulations on Country of Origin Labelling (CoOL).

Minister O’Neill said she was concerned by the issue and had been working closely with her counterpart in the south – Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney – to agree a way forward which would help ensure a fair deal for both farmers and processors.

[caption id="attachment_56519" align="aligncenter" width="540"]DARD Minister Michelle O'Neill is trying to find a solution to the issues of sheep DARD Minister Michelle O’Neill is trying to find a solution to the issues facing sheep farmers. [/caption]

She said: “Traditionally, we have a healthy North-South lamb trade which has benefited the industry across Ireland. However, the introduction of new EU labelling rules, appears to have adversely affected farmers in the north, with some processors reluctant to accept their lambs. Through discussions with farming and processor representatives, my officials have been assessing the impact of the new regulation and other contributing factors, such as the euro/sterling exchange rate.”

Minister O’Neill said she would continue to work with the industry and stakeholders in the North and with senior figures in Dublin, London and Brussels in an effort to find a solution.

She added: “I have raised the issue with Minister Coveney and we have tasked officials with looking at whether we can agree additional voluntary label(s) which would support the industry across the island and also improve the information available to the customer. Furthermore, I would encourage major retailers and food service businesses, across the island and beyond, to accept all-Ireland origin products.

“My officials have also had discussions with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the north and with British food officials on the impact of country of origin labelling and the scope for solutions, including voluntary labelling.

“I intend to write to the Secretary of State at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Liz Truss firstly, to highlight the difficulties for our industry here and, secondly, to emphasise the need for maximum flexibility in labelling products from the north.

“I have already raised this issue face to face with EU Commissioner Phil Hogan when he was in Belfast and I am determined to continue lobbying the Commission. I will highlight the inherent problems of the labelling regulations and will robustly make the case for our unique circumstances to be taken into consideration.”

The Minister concluded by encouraging those within the industry in the north to make their voices heard.

She said: “The FSA is currently consulting on enforcement of the regulations and I would encourage farmers, and other interested parties, to respond by sharing their experience of the impact of the new rules.”

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