Tara chatted with Seamus Lynch, Co. Limerick butcher about his business and our consumer habits. The climate for rural butchers, he says, is 'quiet, and getting quieter'.
“We don’t really have a response [to the change],” Séamus says. “The recession started it, but there are two main reasons - losing the older generation customer, and then the eating habits of the younger generation. How my daughters eat, they’re not vegetarian but they might as well be! Younger people as well don’t really care where the meat comes from. The older people were big into traceability. Younger people are more into the appearance of things. Styles of cooking have changed as well. It’s a convenience culture. People like to go into the supermarket, big space, and get everything in one go, it’s just automatic to them. It mightn’t necessarily be cheaper, in the long run, it’s more down how it’s marketed.”His father founded their butcher’s shop in 1965, and he began work here himself in 1983. Seamus operates a self-contained local agri-food economy – but one that is in need of a conscious shift in consumer habits at a community level, if it is to remain viable.
“I buy from the farmers here around, I deliver them to the slaughterhouse, I bring them home and I process them on the premises. It really is farm to fork. But there is a high cost involved in that for me.”If there is a return towards buying local or buying Irish, Seamus feels “it’s more in urban areas. All comes down to price, people keeping money in their pockets.” A consequence of stagnating farm incomes and limited job prospects in many rural areas.
“If we could get a bigger volume of people coming in – I can’t see how that’s going to happen. If there is any one thing I would like to see changed, I would like to see the government to come up with some sort of scheme - not just for butchers in rural areas, but for small shops – they would badly need some incentive. Sort out something with the smaller supermarkets, give them a chance.”
“The slaughter is fully regulated, 100% – there is a vet on site and there is testing pre and post mortem, and the meat is stamped. I’m not under pressure from any specific regulation, and we’re up to scratch. Regulations are good for business in their own way, they get rid of cowboys.”
But he is proud to be “very dedicated to the cause here, it’s all Irish chicken we use – and I could buy the foreign stuff cheaper,” although he believes Irish pork could “possibly” go the same way as Irish chicken (90% of catering chicken is imported) – “French and Spanish pork is anything up to a euro cheaper than Irish pork.”
What are his thoughts on hardening prices for beef – does he expect a regulated market?
“Animals are costing 4-5 euro per kg at the moment, if it held at around that, we’d be ok, and the farmer would be ok. When it goes beyond that, it’s no good for me. The farmer, if it gets too good for them, they’re paying more for replacement stock so what they’re gaining they’re losing again.”He also feels CAP involvement has had an adverse effect, and that Ireland in particular bows more to EU rule than other nations. What he considers the inevitability of Brexit he’s confident won’t spell doom for Irish exports.
“Britain will show us how it’s done,” Séamus concludes. “All we need do then is trade with Britain – 66 million people, and they’re our main buyer already.”