In attempting to rectify the problem of excessively dirty hides, has the Northern Ireland Ministry of Agriculture’s repeated warnings and threats of action amounted to anything more than a massive barrage of “hot air”?
That’s the question leading figures in Ulster’s hide industry would like answered – and answered quickly – as the annual flood of dung encrusted hides begins to snowball onto the market.
Orders are being lost, they claim; producers’ money is being thrown down the drain, and Ulster’s reputation for producing a good quality hide – a reputation built up for some nine months of the year – is being thrown to the wind in the “housing” period.
Declared Mr Vivian Campbell, managing director of the Lisburn Hide Company, one of our youngest and largest hide firms: “For nearly nine months our hides can compare favourably with any in the world; then for the remainder of the year we are our own worst enemy. Our hides are a disgrace!
“I have just finished examining some hides and whoever graded them deserved to lose his job,” declares Mr Campbell.
“The Ministry said they were going to turn down excessively dirty animals but to date I haven’t heard of half a dozen cases where animals have been rejected.”
Hides were coming in with 40-50lbs of dung on them, he said.
“Already an Eire group of tanners – one of my company’s biggest customers – has cancelled its order from us until April because of the present condition of the hides.
“This group represented some 40 per cent of the outlet for our hides so we will have to start looking elsewhere in the United Kingdom or even on the Continent for a new buyer.
“This will bring added headaches. I reckon that for every 10 tons of hides I will be paying freight on a ton of dung. It’s as serious as that.
“The Ministry’s apparent reluctance to take any action to combat the problem and many farmers carelessness is baffling,” he said.
Mr Michael Burns, one of the proprietors of Belfast firm John Maguinness, revealed that in another month or so, some 90 per cent of all hides to reach them would be in a dirty condition. “Some 50lb hides will have 40lbs of dung on them,” he reckons.
He pointed out that there was a chemical reaction between the dung which resulted in the leather being riddled with holes like pin pricks.
“Apart from this, the dung makes the hides very difficult, unhygienic and unpleasant for workers to handle,” he said. “It is a ridiculous state of affairs that this problem is allowed to crop up year after year seemingly without anything being done to combat it.
“I recognise that the Ministry of Agriculture did a worthwhile job in carrying out the warble fly eradication scheme but why can they not undertake a similar drive to stamp out the dirty hide problem?”
And added Mr Campbell: “The hide trade was very firm in 1969 but business is somewhat dicey at the moment so naturally we’re very worried about the effect that the present flood of dirty hides on the market will have.
“A damned shame,” was how a leading representative of another Belfast firm described the problem. Strong words perhaps, but they aptly summarise the feelings of those involved in the industry at the moment.