Irish farmers demand better price for cattle

By Aaron McDonald

- Last updated on GMT

Simon Coveney told to get stuck in and tackle the lack of Irish beef competition
Simon Coveney told to get stuck in and tackle the lack of Irish beef competition

Related tags Meat Livestock Beef

Farmers in Ireland are demanding better prices for their cattle and fair and open competition, which is apparently being denied to them. 

That’s what Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA) national livestock chairman Henry Burns told a crowd of farmers at the IFA Livestock Rally outside Slaney Meats in Bunclody, Co Wexford on Sunday 7 February.

Burns said that farmers want the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to get stuck in and tackle the lack of competition within the Irish beef sector. “Livestock farmers are very frustrated because they feel the Minister is clearly leaning towards the processor and not the farmer,​” said Burns.

Sales 'concern'​ 

He called on Coveney to understand that a sustainable Irish beef sector ought to be delivering viable prices back to primary producers, and it is not all about raw material for processors and retailers.

Business sales have caused further concern within the industry. According to Burns, there are fears around competition and dominance in beef processing as well as rendering in the sale of the Allen family 50% share of the Slaney/ICM business to ABP. The investment would give ABP effective control on over a quarter (29%) of the beef kill and three of the six rendering plants in the country.

Meanwhile, ABP’s investment in Irish Country Meats (ICM) has also led to fears with sheep farmers. ICM currently has up to 40% of the lamb kill.

Open Middle East markets 

To help the industry, IFA has requested that the Minister and the Government make a submission to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CPCC) on the investment. It wants particular emphasis to be focused on the importance of protecting and guaranteeing competition in the processing and rendering sectors.

It was also highlighted by Burns that there was an unacceptable price gap that has opened up between Irish and British cattle prices. He said Irish food body Bord Bía had provided figures to the Minister which showed that the average Irish/UK price gap for 2015 had widened to 82c/kg or €293 per head. This compares to an average of 27c/kg or €97 per head over the 10 years from 2004 to 2013, proving the point of lack of competition.

In addition, Burns called on Minister Coveney to be more supportive of the live export trade and in securing access to Ireland’s nearest and highest-priced markets in Northern Ireland and Britain.

“The Minister must resolve the EU labelling issues that are being used by processors and retailers to impede the live export trade and deny price competition,” explained Burns. “The Minister must also lead the drive to open live markets to Egypt, Libya and Turkey.”

Weight limits 'not acceptable'

According to Burns, the way meat factories are imposing weight limits and age penalties on some of the country’s top farmers is a breach of the outcomes agreed by Coveney in the Beef Forum and a move to undermine the Quality Payment System (QPS). In addition, factories have shown a disregard for both the Minister for Agriculture and the Beef Forum.

It was described as “incredible​” that the Minister had allowed the factories to blatantly ignore one of the key outcomes in the Forum which clearly stated: “Processors agree that there will be no dual-base pricing for steers and heifers in individual processing plants, by breed, age or weight or quality assurance status.​” It is reported that some of the major processor groups, which agreed this with Coveney, are quoting farmers two different base prices for different weights of cattle.

Weight penalties imposed by the meat plants are extremely penal and unnecessary, and target our best farmers and best cattle,​” said Burns.

The IFA worked with the QPS, so that quality breeders and livestock were properly rewarded through improved prices. The price differentials, which were scientifically based on Teagasc research, did not include weight or age limits. “The factories are now trying to tear up the QPS and impose weight-limit price cuts which completely ignore the science,​” concluded Burns.

This is not acceptable and a complete breach of what was written down by Minister Coveney in the Beef Forum.​”

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