Sensible approach urged to clean sheep policy

By Helen Gilbert

- Last updated on GMT

Some factories have reportedly threatened farmers with extra costs for delivering dirty or wet sheep
Some factories have reportedly threatened farmers with extra costs for delivering dirty or wet sheep

Related tags Livestock Lamb

Trade bodies have urged meat processors to take a “practical and sensible approach” towards implementing rules around the cleanliness of sheep for slaughter in light of the recent continuous bad weather.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) have both been contacted by members who have expressed concern about a “heavy-handed approach​” by factories in terms of implementing the Agriculture and Food Development Authority’s Clean Sheep Policy.
Category C of the guidance maintains that sheep with heavily contaminated fleece are unfit for slaughter and must not be presented for ante-mortem in this condition. 

It is the responsibility of the food business operator to take the required remedial action​,” it states.

However, the IFA said it understood that some factories had threatened farmers with additional costs, including ramping up charges on clipping, with some imposing 80c per head for dagging, a move the association opposes.

Sean Dennehy, IFA national sheep chairman, claimed that some plants had imposed across-the-board charges of 30c per sheep, regardless of whether the sheep are clean or dirty, a move he described as “unfair and wrong​”.

He also reiterated that any costs associated with required action at factory level should be incorporated into the normal running costs of the factory.

Despite working in very difficult weather conditions at this time of year, sheep farmers will strive to have their sheep as clean as possible, but neither the factories nor the Department can expect the impossible​,” he said.

Some have suggested any dirty and wet sheep will be detained and not killed. Farmers will make the best possible effort to have their sheep as clean as possible… any significant delay in slaughtering sheep at a factory is very bad news as it will reduce kill out and cost the farmer​.”

ICSA sheep chairman John Brooks warned that processors were overly clamping down on wet sheep. “Processors have gone completely overboard on this issue; wet sheep are not dirty sheep​,” he said.

By all accounts wet sheep were perfectly acceptable up until last week. If they now want to introduce a policy of dry sheep only, they will have to look at their own facilities. There is plenty of scope to improve lairage conditions so sheep can dry off before slaughter. There is also scope to improve wash bay facilities for trailers​.”

Brooks added that sheep farmers could not stop the rain from falling making it “impossible to present dry sheep only for slaughter​”. 

ICSA does not condone producers bringing sheep for slaughter in an unfit condition, but wet sheep do not contravene the ethos of CLP​,” he said. “I am calling on the processors to abandon their recent heavy-handed approach and row back in this nonsensical approach to wet sheep​.”

The Department of Agriculture, Food & The Marine, as outlined in its statement of strategy, is committed to the production of safe food and the protection of consumers.

Accordingly, the Department has developed a clean livestock policy for sheep, after intensive consultation with a range of stakeholders – including farmer and industry representatives – and has now put in place implementation arrangements with a view to making sustained progress on a collaborative basis.

All sheep farmers are being reminded of their legal responsibilities in relation to the presentation of clean sheep for slaughter. The Department has publicised the requirements for primary producers to ensure that animals being sent for slaughter are clean, and provides guidance in that regard, including poster photos of the different categories of sheep for CLP purposes for display in lairages. The agreed Clean Livestock Policy for sheep is available on the Department’s website HERE.

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