He said last week that taking over cattle farms enables processors to manipulate the market at will, by releasing thousands of cattle to the market to drive prices down.
Recently, IFA members in Co Limerick called for any farmer who gives his or her feed lots over to processors to be expelled from IFA.
Responding in the D•il to Mr McNamara, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Tom Hayes said the reason for processors buying feedlots all over the country is that some farmers cannot finance it. “It is very expensive to buy a lot of animals to fill a feed lot. It is an issue which needs to be addressed over a period of time, and I certainly hope the round table discussions will deal with that.”
Mr McNamara said beef prices have barely increased since the round table beef summit. The Shannon, Co Clare Labour Party TD, who is a barrister-at-law and a farmer, said, “Will the department do something about the fact feedlots across this State are being filled by processors which gives them the power to subvert competition and to hammer beef prices? As soon as prices rise, they open those feedlots and release thousands of cattle to drive down the prices. Will this anti-competitive practice be investigated, because if it is not, many farmers who had cattle in sheds all winter and who have cattle in sheds now will be in trouble? They are losing money on every head of cattle because, as I said, prices are way down on this time last year.”
He also pointed to what he said is “an extremely restrictive practice” — the strictest regime in Europe for live exports, operated by Ireland. “I find it hard to believe that states such as the Netherlands, the UK and Sweden do not take animal rights seriously and that we are the only state that does. I question why we make it so hard to send cattle outside the State and particularly to third countries such as those in north Africa when Bord Bia advises that there is a market there. The Irish Cattle Exporters Association has advised there is a market there, but its members cannot get the boats.”
“Is it really about animal safety, or is it about subverting competition and protecting particular processors?
Mr Hayes said: “It is very important we have top class conditions because the type of animal we produce is a top class one. One does not send animals in boats in very poor condition. That is important because animals can die. As the deputy knows, they have to travel a long way by sea and they have to be maintained. I do not think the department or anybody in this country would stand over a regime unless it was strict, which it has to be.” He gave the figures for 2014 exports of live cattle, up by almost 21,000 head or 23%, principally on the back of large increases in the calf and finished cattle categories.
Shipments to Britain are up by 46% while live exports to Northern Ireland in the period amounted to 13,300 head, compared with 11,335 animals for the same period in 2013, an increase of 17%. “Indications from live exporters are that the higher level of live exports will continue, and live export volumes were further boosted by a recent shipment of 2,500 animals to Libya.”