ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said that the beef market taskforce must deliver real results for farmers and not just end up as a “talking shop”.
He believes the onus is on the Minister and the chairman of the taskforce to ensure that the meat industry “does not drag its heels or act as a barrier to progress”.
“Many farmers have no confidence that real change can be delivered through the taskforce; they have seen previous efforts achieve very little.”
Phelan said the appointment of a chairman without any consultation with farm organisations has led to “serious” unease.
“The first set of negotiations in August produced a result which was deeply unsatisfactory to many farmers and contributed to the prolonged blockade in September.”
“The lesson must be learned from this. The meat industry cannot be allowed to frustrate progress, nor can its red lines be seen as the red lines for the taskforce.”
“Farmers are watching carefully, and they want to see real change.” he added.
The ICSA believe key deliverables include:
- Transparency over how much of the final retail price is delivered to farmers, taking account of the fifth quarter;
- A proper, independent, evidence-based assessment of whether in-spec criteria are justified by consumer demands;
- Completion of the review of the grid with upwards adjustment of the U grade price to take account of the imbalance on the grid due to the proliferation of lower grade cattle;
- Better oversight of factory floor grievances such as trim and grading anomalies;
- Full engagement by the retail trade;
- Appointment of a regulator.
‘Not good enough to blame it all on markets’
The farm organisation stressed that the Minister must be responsible for ensuring results on these issues.
“If there is any sense that progress is frustrated, he must intervene immediately.”
“The last thing that we want to see is farmers getting angry again which is exactly what will happen if this taskforce ends up being like all previous efforts to address the dysfunctional relationship between farmers and factories.”
“It is not good enough to blame it all on markets when the big three processors in Ireland are so dominant not only in Ireland but also in the UK.”
“It is all too easy to say we have to do what UK supermarkets tell us, but the reality is that the UK beef consumer is massively dependent on beef processed by the big three Irish processors from farms in Ireland and the UK.”
“If these farmers gave up producing beef the only realistic alternative would be beef from South America.”
Phelan explained that retailers would then have to explain that all the quality assurance and the in-spec requirements, the traceability and the animal welfare and environmental benefits of “our beef were now gone forever”.
“We also saw with the blockades that shops were only days away from beef shortages.”
“So, to say that we have no influence on the marketplace is too convenient an excuse; this must be kept in mind during taskforce proceedings.” Phelan concluded.