The National Beef Association is urging Northern Ireland's beef industry to unite behind the 100% farm assurance for both its cattle and its beef.
"It must pledge itself entirely to the Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (FQAS) because that will help beef being sold out of Northern Ireland become a higher provenance, higher value, retail product than it is at present" said Oisin Murnion, NBA's Northern Ireland chairman.
Recent events show that guaranteed origin, and full product integrity have emerged as the key to higher earnings at retail, processor and farm level "so further reinforcement of FQAS, which carries the influential Red Tractor, will secure a brighter, better, future all of the beef industry's participants" he said.
Recently, beef farmers have been persuading retailers not to skip product information on retail package labels.
"Current development within the Province’s beef sector is hugely handicapped by the ten per cent discount in slaughter cattle values, compared with mainland GB, that is the result of the blurring of its identity with beef from the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and the product discounting that has accompanied this confusion."
"But if all of Northern Ireland's cattle, including breeding stock and their calves, were FQAS qualified, and farmers, processors and retailers worked together to encourage this, then the authenticity and integrity of all beef produced and processed within its borders would be fully reinforced and consumers would be completely confident about buying it."
The NBA is already heartened by reports from within the processing sector that some factories are no longer accepting non-FQAS stock - including cows, that buyers are also moving fast towards much steeper discounting for non-FQAS cattle, and only one plant, compared with three at the end of last year, is still bringing in cattle from the ROI for immediate slaughter.
"There can be no doubt that processor interest in FQAS has quickened since the horsemeat scandal and that some of the pressure is coming from their supermarket customers on the mainland who want to make sure the beef they handle is as high provenance as possible – and one result could be tougher discounts ion non-FQAS stock," said Murnion.
"This being the case the quicker all beef cattle in the Province carry fully FQAS credentials the better. Most effort will have to be made by breeders who want to avoid price penalties when they cull out cows but some finishers have still to come on board too,"
"Our view is that the quicker they do so the better because there will be both immediate, and future, financial advantages for everyone in Northern Ireland’s beef sector when retailers and consumers are confident that all the cattle in the Province are fully farm assured and all of its beef is FQAS qualified."