Talks aimed at resolving the impasse between farmers and beef producers were continuing late last night.
The meeting involved the Beef Plan Movement, which has suspended its protests to facilitate talks with Meat Industry Ireland, which represents processors, as well as farmers’ groups and officials from the Department of Agriculture.
Both farmers and processors agreed to enter talks following weeks of protest that saw demonstrators picket factories, and meat industry players threaten injunctions against those it alleged were disrupting its day-to-day business.
The summit is covering a number of issues facing the sector and is being chaired by Michael Dowling, former secretary-general to the Department of Agriculture, at the Department’s headquarters in Backweston, Co Kildare.
Ahead of the talks, David Whelehan of the Beef Plan Movement said farmers are the victim of anti-competitive practices.
“The elephant in the room is pricing, but unfortunately under competition authority rules, we’re not allowed to discuss that,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
“But outside of pricing, which is a genuine issue, there are other issues within the industry.
"There are regulations and stipulations that are placed on us as primary producers, by both the processors and retailers, backed up by no scientific fact and they have actually a negative effect on the end price we receive for our animals.
“Unfortunately, the situation within our industry is we have a membership base that is facing financial ruin, and we have an industry that was in complete denial up until now, about the state of the industry.
“As I said, there is no transparency or level playing field. All the farmers want within our membership is a fair share of the end retail price.
"We don’t want handouts, we just want to be paid fairly for what we produce and I think, in this day and age, that is not too much to ask.”
The Irish Farmer’s Association said it would be raising the issue of imports into the European market from outside the EU.
“Imports which do not meet the same stringent standards as EU producers must be banned,” said IFA president Joe Healy ahead of the meeting.
Transparency within the food chain was also on the IFA’s agenda, he added.
“An accurate price index is essential to arm farmers with key market information and allow them to pursue the full value of their stock.”
The Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) said the grid system, used within the industry to rank cattle, was in need of an overhaul.
“The grid needs to be simplified,” said ICSA president Edmond Phelan.
“There is no question that better bonuses can be paid for U grades as well as R+ grades without any further deductions on lower-grade cattle.
"The grid was devised to be price-neutral. However, the fact that the grid is no longer price neutral is clear for all to see.
“Factories are cleaning up on deductions on lower-grade cattle because of the increasing numbers of lower-grade cattle since the grid was introduced 10 years ago.
"The dairy expansion has caused this, and the grid must reflect these changes.”
Yesterday’s talks coincided with the opening day of applications for a €100m fund to assist farmers ahead of Brexit.
The IFA’s National Livestock Committee chairman Angus Woods urged farmers to apply for the Beef Exceptional Aid Measure before applications close on Sunday, September 18.
“It’s essential that all eligible farmers now get their applications in and that all of the money is drawn down and paid out to farmers without delay, as there is real financial need among livestock farmers because of the crisis in the sector,” said Mr Woods.