The group, which has been protesting at Irish beef processing plants over the amount farmers receive compared to the retail price, have had round-the-clock presence at more than 20 sites throughout Ireland.
Speaking to Global Meat News, Beef Plan spokesman Enda Fingleton said the protests, which have been going on for almost two weeks, would not be stopped until the group’s requests are met.
“We’re prepared to protest for as long as it takes. The alternative is our livelihood being destroyed so we have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
He also said there would be no cessation of protests during any talks that might take place. “We will not be going into any talks with pre-conditions, including stopping protests,” he explained. “The groundswell of these protests has got so big, they cannot be ignored.”
The group published a list of demands that it feels would help beef farmers survive. “We’re simply not getting the returns for the hard work we’re doing, and the fact that the processors are letting these protests continue for as long as they have, shows there are huge profits being generated for them that they’re looking to protect.”
Fingleton warned that if the domestic beef sector becomes unsustainable, there would be areas of the country left in financial jeopardy. “Some would be able to shift to arable farming but there are huge portions of the country where this is not possible and the land would be left useless.”
He also suggested that the Irish meat industry should focus on issues closer to home. “We’ve been beaten with the Brexit stick for the past three years and we can’t remain silent on it any longer. The beef industry received €100m support due to Brexit and while that should have been more, we suggested that this money be used to set up a red meat regulator but that has fallen on deaf ears.”
The processors’ trade body Meat Industry Ireland (MII) expressed disappointment that Beef Plan refused to participate in talks involving both parties and Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed.
Howver Fingleton told Global Meat News that there has been no invitation offered to these talks but expressed openness to discussions.
MII also said it was having to resort to legal action to help resolve the protests. In a statement, it said: “MII acknowledges the right of suppliers to organise a peaceful protest; however the unlawful behaviour of some protestors at certain sites has caused significant and irreparable damage to the beef industry. The continued intimidation of fellow farmer suppliers, company employees, government assigned veterinarians and other service providers including hauliers is unacceptable.
“Unfortunately, as a result of the Beef Plan campaign of illegal blockades, companies have been forced to lay off employees with more expected to be laid off in the coming days as operations grind to a halt.
“Unfortunately, because of Beef Plan blockades, and in the aftermath of its refusal to enter talks brokered by the Minister, businesses have, as a last resort, been left with no choice other than to seek legal remedy in an effort to prevent Beef Plan from causing further damage to the Irish beef industry.”
The decision to pursue legal action was criticised by the Irish Farmers’ Association. President Joe Healy said MII “should stop meeting lawyers and start meeting farmers”.
“Minister Creed has described the threat from MII as unhelpful, but it’s much worse than that. The Minister has to get tough with the factories and tell them to enter talks without any preconditions,” added Healy. “The current dispute is a product of the desperate situation beef farmers find themselves in. Threatening legal action just shows how out of touch with the reality Meat Industry Ireland is.”