Speaking to a large crowd of farmers at the IFA Livestock Rally outside Slaney Meats in Bunclody Co Wexford today (Sunday), IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said Irish farmers are demanding a better price for their cattle and fair and open competition, which is being denied to them.
Henry Burns said farmers are demanding that the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney gets stuck in and tackles the lack of competition that has plagued the Irish beef sector for years. He said, ”Livestock farmers are very frustrated because they feel the Minister is clearly leaning towards the processors and not the farmer.”
The IFA Livestock leader said Minister Coveney must understand that a sustainable Irish beef sector has to be about delivering viable prices back to primary producers and not all about cheap raw material for processors and retailers.
He said livestock farmers have real fears and concerns around competition and dominance in beef processing as well as rendering in the sale of the Allen family 50% share of the Slaney/ICM business to ABP. This investment would give ABP effective control on up to 29% of the beef kill and three of the six rendering plants in the country.
Sheep farmers are equally concerned over competition and dominance in lamb processing with the ABP investment in Irish Country Meats (ICM). ICM currently has up to 40% of the lamb kill and lamb processing also needs more competition.
Henry Burns said the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CPCC) has told IFA that there is nothing stopping Minister Coveney from making a submission to the Authority on the proposed merger and in support of effective competition in the livestock sector.
IFA has called on the Minister and the Government to make a submission to the CCPC on the investment, and particularly on the importance of protecting and guaranteeing competition in the processing and rendering sectors.
The IFA Livestock leader said cattle farmers cannot understand why the Minister is saying he can do nothing on this and why he is adopting such a detached policy on this critically important competition issue.
Henry Burns called on Minister Coveney to take a real interest and address the lack of competition in the beef sector and the unacceptable price gap that has opened up between Irish and British cattle prices. He said Bord Bia has provided figures to the Minister which show that the average Irish/UK price gap for 2015 has widened to 82c/kg or €293 per head. This compares to an average of 27c/kg or €97 per head over the 10 years from 2004 to 2013 and proves the point on the lack of competition.
In addition, Henry Burns called on Minister Coveney to be much more supportive of the live export trade and securing access to our nearest and highest priced markets in Northern Ireland and Britain. “The Minister must resolve the EU labelling issues that are being used by processors and retailers to impede the live export trade and deny price competition. The Minister must also lead the drive to open live markets to Egypt, Libya and Turkey.”
The IFA Livestock leader said the way the meat factories are imposing weight limits and age penalties on our best farmers and quality stock is a complete breach of the outcomes agreed by Minister Coveney in the Beef Forum and a move to undermine the Quality Payment System. He said the factories have shown total disregard for both the Minister for Agriculture and the Beef Forum.
Henry Burns said it is incredible that Minister Coveney has allowed the factories to blatantly ignore one of the key outcomes in the Forum which clearly states: ‘Processors agree that there will be no dual base pricing for steers and heifers in individual processing plants, by breed, age or weight or Quality Assurance status’. He said some of the major processor groups which agreed this with the Minister and farmers are quoting farmers two different base prices for different weights of cattle.
“Weight penalties imposed by the meat plants are extremely penal and unnecessary, and target our best farmers and best cattle”. He said the suckler farmers being targeted by the factories with the weigh cuts are our most productive and best performing breeders with the best quality stock.
Henry Burns said IFA worked with the Quality Payment System so as quality breeders and livestock were properly rewarded through improved prices. The price differentials in the QPS grid were scientifically based on Teagasc research data and did not include weight or age limits. “The factories are now trying to tear up the QPS and impose weight limit price cuts which completely ignore the science. This is not acceptable and a complete breach of what was written down by Minister Coveney in the Beef Forum.” In addition, he said the in spec bonus under the QPS is very clear and does not involve any weight limits.