Commenting after the Minister attended a Committee meeting at Stormont Mrs Dobson said:
“Very often we see bargain-priced ‘Barbecue Packs’ of meat on the shelves of local stores. On closer inspection too many of these packs often don’t have any country of origin markings, especially if they are not assembled using local products by the in-store butcher for example. This would indicate the contents have been imported into Northern Ireland from countries outside the European Union.
“These packs can also include the wording ‘packed’ or ‘processed in Northern Ireland,’ giving the false impression to some that this meat was reared on our local farms.
“The quality of the meat, from countries often including Argentina or Chile, could not come close to that of our home-reared meat but at the same time the temptingly low price is undercutting our local farmers.
“When you consider the hoops local farmers are made to jump through both from DARD and EU Regulations it seems to be one rule for them and no rules at all for those who import this cheap foreign meat.
“Despite the fact that it is an EU requirement under Beef and Veal labelling regulations that products are labelled with the state or states where the animal was ‘born, raised and slaughtered’ meat from outside the EU falls outside of these regulations.
“When I asked senior DARD official attending this week’s committee whether their inspectors based at meat plants had raised any concerns about mis-labelling of imported meat they were worryingly vague in their answers.
“Proper labelling of meat products provides customers with reassurance, confidence and product knowledge. When meat is labelled as ‘British Beef’ consumers can have the confidence to know that the contents are reared to the highest standards by our local farmers. Meat which is packaged with no country of origin information can be misleading to the customer and while some importers voluntarily provide this information others choose not to.
“The consumer must be given all the facts before making their decision – I am concerned that by importing cheaper cuts of meat from abroad these facts are being omitted and the consumer is basing their choice, not on quality or supporting the local economy, but on price alone.
"We know that consumers value our local world-beating quality meat and I am calling on the Minister to ensure that Northern Ireland farmers and the wider agri-food industry is not left at a disadvantage when it comes to meat imported into Northern Ireland and ending up on the shelves without country of origin labelling.”