Tense talks between beef producers and the meat industry have begun in a bid to solve a price dispute which has led to pickets outside meat factories. Talks held at the Department of Agriculture campus at Backweston, Co Kildare, got under way at 2pm yesterday.
The Beef Plan Movement, which organised almost two weeks of protests, attended discussions along with the Irish Farmers Association, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, Meat Industry Ireland, department officials, and Bord Bia.
The talks are chaired by the former secretary general of the department, Michael Dowling, who has been appointed in an independent capacity. Speaking on his way into the discussions, IFA president Joe Healy said the income crisis being suffered by beef farmers must be addressed.
“I think it is very fair to say that factories have decimated the confidence, the hope, the viability of Irish farmers over the past few months and last few years. This has to change and the minister has to be involved in that change.”
The meeting began with presentations from Bord Bia and the Beef Plan Movement, which has produced a 13-point plan to address the sector. The IFA also addressed the meeting and among their demands is an independent regulator for the sector.
Also attending the discussion, ICSA president Edmond Phelan said that “business as usual is not working” for beef farmers.
We need a comprehensive review of the beef grid. We produce the best beef in the world and farmers are on their knees, especially after last year, bad weather, and now we have to have a sustainable price.
Questioned about what action might be taken if no resolution is found through the talks, Mr Phelan said he did not know.
“I didn’t start the protests, I can’t stop protests.”
It is essential the talks produce results for Irish farmers, according to Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Charlie McConalogue.
“It was determined action by Beef Farmers in support of the Beef Plan Movement protests over the last two weeks which forced meat factories to the negotiating table today and it is essential that we now see concrete results from this process for farmers.
“Issues such as the QPS Grid; movement, age and weight restrictions on cattle; the two-tier pricing structure and the need for transparency in the beef supply chain must all be addressed conclusively. The Government must also immediately demand the attendance of retail multiples at talks to address the requirement for a fair margin for beef farming families.
“In addition, the Government must commit to securing financial aid from the European Commission to address the continuing financial losses for beef farmers.
“Article 39.1(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states the EU seek ‘to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, in particular by increasing the individual earnings of persons engaged in agriculture’. It’s time that Fine Gael in Government sought to invoke this clause and that the EU Commission take tangible action to give it effect.
“Farming families must have the opportunity to recover the cost of production plus a margin for their products. As things stand, they are expected to effectively engage in slave labour to support the lion’s share of the consumer price going to highly profitable retail multiples. This situation is totally unacceptable.
“Base beef prices are now lower than experienced during the reference period of September to May covered by the recently announced EU co funded Beam scheme. Further assistance for farmers is required and Minister Creed needs to provide the assurances that this will be forthcoming. Such funding should not have unnecessary conditions attached and reflect the market disturbance currently being experienced.
“We also need to see a plan to increase live exports over the coming months to provide more competition in the market. The Government has a central role to play in assisting to develop these markets and must step up in this regard,” concluded Mr McConalogue.