People’s power movement takes on the beef industry

People’s power movement takes on the beef industry
The Cork Beef Plan Movement protest at the ABP Food Group plant in Bandon. Picture Denis Boyle

Diarmuid Cohalan joined the Beef Plan Movement protest and found no airs and graces, but plenty humour

Whatever emerges from ongoing negotiations between farmers and beef processors, it is clear that processors and retailers cannot take beef farmers for granted.

Much of the credit for this must surely go to the Beef Plan Movement (BPM), which first came to prominence in the autumn of 2018.

The BPM has the characteristics of a people’s power movement representing beef farmers.

It doesn’t have an official office or headquarters, website, nor any paid staff.

It relies solely on voluntary effort, and adopts fairly basic methods to achieve its purpose — which just may be one of its greatest strengths, and may explain why such large numbers joined their recent protests at the beef plants, and why BPM’s membership numbers have rocketed.

The rank and file of members are prepared to play tough in taking on the beef processors to get a fairer income.

By protesting at beef processing plants, their message to processors was simple and clear.

If the rest of the industry siphons off what farmers feel is rightfully due to them for their cattle, farmers are equally entitled to legitimate protest.

It puts down a marker that if processors and retailers gobble up the farmer’s share of the profit margins (in addition to their own share), there is a price to be paid.

The BPM has also thrown down the gauntlet to the existing farm organisations, which now show growing solidarity with the new grouping.

The BPM carries no baggage from the past, and has never been in receipt of any levies from the beef industry.

The Cork Beef Plan Movement protest at the ABP Food Group plant in Bandon. Picture: Jim Coughlan
The Cork Beef Plan Movement protest at the ABP Food Group plant in Bandon. Picture: Jim Coughlan

There were no airs and graces, but plenty humour, when I joined in the protest at ABP Food Group, Bandon.

Catherine from East Cork, married to a suckler farmer, wondered how beef barons had helicopters to take them around, while in her day job, she had to commute to work each morning in a 10-year-old banger.

While taking time out for a snack, Timmy from West Cork displayed his meal for the day, a flask of tea and a few slices of bread.

He joked that a beef baron’s dog would have access to a far better platter, including prime steak from its master’s table.

A suckler farmer from Kilmichael was prepared to render a few bars of ‘The Boys of Kilmichael’, which describes Tom Barry’s West Cork Flying Column defeating a patrol of the Auxiliary Division of the Royal Irish Constabulary.

A Bandon beef farmer said when there was live exports and good competition for cattle, farmers were getting back around 40% of the animal’s market value, now they are “scarcely getting back the animal’s tail”.

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