Farmers are applying increasing pressure on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to intervene in the trading issues facing the beef sector.
Mr Coveney met Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill in Dublin this week. They agreed to collaborate on a range of issues, including the harmonisation of animal health and welfare policies North and South, and to work together to position beef produced on the island as a premium product.
The ministers issued a statement highlighting how cuts in market prices in Ireland, the UK and across Europe have been driven by demand and supply dynamics, retailer procurement strategies, customer loyalties and the relative costs of alternative protein sources such as pigmeat and poultry.
They also said the traditional trade in live animals from Ireland, for slaughter in Northern Ireland, is down significantly, as British retailers focus on marketing beef under either an “Irish” or “British” label.
This led to a fall in demand from Northern processors for animals born in the Republic, as the meat from animals born and slaughtered in different member states is facing more complex labelling under EU rules, they stated.
“Both ministers agreed that the issues around origin labelling are complex, and that any consideration of them should be informed by what is legally possible, and in the best long-term interests of both farmers and consumers,” said a Department of Agriculture spokesman. “However, in the case of meat from animals exported live from the Republic for slaughter in Northern Ireland, there is a strong case to be made for marketing it in Britain on an equal footing with beef born, reared and slaughtered in the Republic. While the marketing of beef in retail outlets is ultimately a commercial decision, both ministers agreed to make a joint approach to UK retailers on this matter with a view to finding solutions.”
While welcoming this joint marketing effort, ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan warned that a solution to this issue must be found “sooner rather than later”.
He said: “The concept of marketing such beef in Britain on an equal footing with beef born, reared and slaughtered in the Republic needs to be examined and progressed quickly.”
The ICSA has also turned up the heat on the ongoing beef sector row by saying it may call upon its members to boycott Bord Bia’s Beef Quality Assurance scheme.
Bord Bia and Meat Industry Ireland have urged the ICSA to consider the likely consequences of this stance on beef prices.
Mr Coveney also urged the ICSA to reconsider its position. He described the quality assurance scheme as a cornerstone of the Irish beef industry, central to Ireland’s success in positioning Irish beef as a premium product in Britain and continental retail outlets, and to gaining access to markets such as the USA.
ICSA’s Edmond Phelan said: “We have no dispute with Bord Bia, but farmers are simply not seeing the benefits of this scheme. Despite all the requirements that farmers must meet to participate in the scheme, it is being abused by processors and retailers in an effort to extract better margins.
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