“The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has let the meat industry, over the number of years, come down through mergers by not keeping control on it” stressed Independent TD, Michael Fitzmaurice.
He expressed his concerns when the Joint Committee on Business, Enterprise and Innovation met with the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to discuss competition law relating to trade associations on Tuesday.
Fitzmaurice said that members of the farming community have “lost faith” in the CCPC.“It was unusual to see how exercised ye [the CCPC] got when a farmer was trying to get a fair price.”
“They don’t want to hear about it [the competition authority] – they [farmers] are absolutely disgusted in the last few weeks, rightly or wrongly, by what has gone on.”
Brian McHugh of the CCPC outlined that it received over 180 complaints relating to the agri sector. “We will consider all those complaints and we will work through them.”
He confirmed that the CCPC wrote a letter to the Beef Plan Movement to highlight potential concerns surrounding anti-competitive behaviour and associated risks with its action. “It is a type of letter that we send as standard to try and get compliance – it wasn’t an enforcement letter.”
“It also highlighted the option that they [Beef Plan Movement] would have to become a producer organisation.”
“If they [farmers] are in a producer organisation, they can negotiate with that processor,” McHugh added.
Fitzmaurice asked if there is an obligation on meat processors to engage with producer organisations.
“At the moment, if you have a PO, because cattle are plentiful, to put it bluntly, they won’t engage with anyone because they [meat processors] are afraid they will give them any bit of power,” Fitzmaurice added.
The CCPC said that “meat processors cannot get together and they cannot agree the price among themselves – that would be a breach of competition law”.
“Farmers can come together, have a PO and negotiate with a processor,” McHugh added.
“Would you think it’s unusual that everywhere around this country today that €3.45/kg is the price of a steer and €3.55/kg is the price of a heifer?" Fitzmaurice asked.
McHugh responded by saying that there are a number of markets where “prices come together”, where “prices are transparent”.
“You do see markets where prices all come into line – those are transparent. This is not evidence that there is a cartel."
The Independent TD stressed that 80,000-100,000 family farms are at risk because of the “mess that is going on”, adding that the competition authority is “no addition to it”.