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the European Commission will establish a network of enforcement authorities to allow for the exchange of best enforcement practices and a platform to discuss and improve the application of UTP rules. Healy called on the European Parliament to strengthen the

legislation by adding other UTPs so that producers have clear written contracts and in order to tackle abuses by retailers, including unsustainable discounting or below-cost selling and payment for retention or better positioning of shelf space. The IFA president pointed out that the Commission’s proposals

on UTPs are to be followed by new legislation on transparency in the food chain. “This must provide for mandatory price reporting at all levels

in the food chain so that margins and profitability of processors and retailers are clearly visible,” he said.

IN MY OPINION … RICHARD HALLERON Members of the Irish parliament should have debated the county’s fodder crisis some weeks ago rather than on their recent return from the Easter recess. But, to their credit, the politicians did bring some new thinking to

the subject. In the first instance, the principle of offering meal vouchers to those cattle farmers most badly affected is one that should have been acted upon. There is full justification for this approach, given the scope of last autumn’s Sheep Welfare Scheme. Under the conditions that have been prevailing on many suckler

and cattle farms over recent months, the feeding of meals would have provided the most effective way of maintaining animal health and welfare levels. In addition, most farmers can offer concentrates without a reliance on the machinery required to feed silage. Some might argue that offering a meal voucher scheme contravenes European Union state aid regulations. But that’s not

the point. Surely the Irish government could have made the case to Brussels for such a measure on animal welfare grounds. I also believe that it would have been cheaper to have gone down

this road than to have committed to the cost of a fodder transport subsidy.

Meanwhile, the pressure to reduce the level of antibiotic usage

within agriculture continues to grow. This will be a key issue for Irish compound feed manufacturers to address during the period ahead. All of this ties in with the commitment that now exists at a global

level to develop a “One Health” strategy, involving both veterinarians and human health professionals, where the overall use of antibiotics is concerned. The requirement for local farmers to keep a medicines book,

as part of the current quality assurance schemes, gives agriculture a degree of cover where antibiotics are concerned. But will this be deemed to be a sufficient response to the antimicrobial challenge that is coming down the track? I doubt it. Where dairy is concerned, many vets are now talking up the

benefits of selective dry cow therapy. But this management option only works on farms where milk recording is routinely practised. However, a County Tyrone-based veterinarian told me recently that unless this approach is taken on a widespread basis, he worries about the general availability of antibiotic-based dry cow therapies in a few years’ time. He also made it very clear that such restrictions would be specifically introduced on the back of growing concern regarding bacterial resistance to antimicrobials. Northern Ireland’s food industry exports 80 percent of its entire

output. It is conceivable that freedom from antibiotic residues could be made a standard requirement by many importing countries in the not-too-distant future. This is a potential development that farmers and industry leaders alike need to take careful note of right now.

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