Beef farmers plan to continue protests outside the distribution centres of most major retailers on Monday as talks are due to take place in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The farmers, who are also continuing to protest outside meat factories, decided to target the retail distribution centres because the retailers are not involved in the talks.
Talks involving a number of farming organisations, including the Irish Farmers' Association, as well as the processing sector organisation Meat Industry Ireland, are to take place in the department and to be chaired by former secretary-general Michael Dowling.
The talks are unlikely to directly address the issue of price, which is the main factor for beef producers, who say the price they are receiving for their cattle is unsustainable.
The industry and others have said competition law prohibits the making of detailed price agreements.
Beef Plan Movement, the farmers' organisation that is central to many of the protests, wants an agreement involving farmers, retailers and processors that ensures farmers get a "fair share" of the retail price.
It also wants to change a number of rules that they say add to the difficulties farmers are facing.
These include the 30-month rule, the four-movement rule, and the 70-day residency rule, all of which are agreements designed to combat the risk of mad cow disease.
The rules, which are a mix of commercially-driven codes and demands from foreign exporters, including the Chinese, are important for exports sales, including to the UK market which accounts for a large proportion of the Republic’s annual beef exports.
Up to 90 per cent of all beef is exported. Domestic sales, including by way of retail but also to the hospitality sector, accounts for only 10 per cent of all beef sales.
Centres that distribute beef to Lidl outlets will not be the subject of protests because that retail chain does not operate a rule whereby meat has to come from animals slaughtered within 30 months. Lidl takes meat from animals that have lived up to 36 months.
In a letter issued on Saturday, Beef Plan said it would be holding peaceful protests at retail distribution centres over the coming days and expressed frustration at the retailers’ “decision not to attend” the Monday talks.
Retail Ireland, which represents the retailers, did not respond to a request for a comment. Sources close to the department said the talks are essentially a resumption of earlier talks, which had not been attended by representatives of the retail trade.
It is expected that the protests outside the processors, which began six weeks ago, will continue this week.
“We find it hard to understand [that retailers are not attending the talks] as Meat Industry Ireland lays the blame for the four-movement rule, 70-day rule and 30-month rule firmly at the door of the retailers,” Beef Plan said in its statement.
“Meat Industry Ireland also says that retailers take the largest share of the retail price of beef. Retailers have at no point in the last month made any public statement on this issue and therefore we can only assume that this is a calculated ploy on their behalf to maintain their profits.”
In a statement on Sunday, Meat Industry Ireland said it refuted claims that the retailer took the largest share of the retail price for beef. It said the producer share of the retail beef price is closer to two-thirds. It said the current price pressure in the sector is linked to depressed demand in the EU market and the price paid to Irish farmers was at the average of European counterparts.