Major Irish beef processors are being accused of operating a cartel that depresses the price farmers get for their produce without passing it onto the consumer.
They face a two-pronged attack as Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has said he is considering legislation in relation to them and supermarkets, while Sinn Féin is asking the Competition Commissioner to investigate.
There have been ongoing battles between the meat factories and farmers, with a truce signed last week that lifted pickets and protests.
But Matt Carthy, a Sinn Féin member of the European Parliament, said they have been collecting information about the processors and are preparing a report for the EU’s competition commissioner.
“Over any given day, all the processors are offering the same price to within a cent of one another for beef. When 24 plants were being picketed by farmers, the other 14 or 15 that were not did not take in a single cow.
“There is no other sector — even with the retailers — where there is not at least a bit of variation in prices,” he said.
Sinn Féin already referred the issue to the EU’s competition authorities and they have asked them for specifics.
“We will carry out a report over the next few months about the prices farmers are being offered,” he said.
Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said there was widespread concern about the concentration of the beef market in Ireland and Britain in the hands of a few and that producers especially were concerned that there could be potential cartel issues.
He added that this concentration has had a significant impact on price, but emphasised that it was important to have a quality product with traceability systems to ensure consumers had confidence in what they were eating.
Opening up new markets for beef outside the EU, including in the US and China, would generate competition for the supermarkets and for particular factories accused of having too great a concentration of the industry.
He favoured introducing new rules, however, when it came to dealing with retailers. “The supermarkets are perceived to be in a dominant position and I am going to look at the regulations, and introduce new legislation if necessary to ensure that producers get a a fair return for the food product.”
European Commission spokesperson, Ricardo Cardoso, confirmed that they had opened an investigation into beef cartel allegations earlier this year. “But given that no evidence was submitted to support the allegations of anti-competitive behaviour, the investigation was closed.”
Mr Carthy said he would return to the Commission in a few months time with the evidence they required to reopen the investigation.
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