The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has urged Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to address the lack of competition in the beef sector, which it says will be compounded by ABP Group's plan to acquire a 50 per cent stake in Slaney Foods.
IFA national livestock boss Henry Burns said farmers had “real fears” around the lack of competition and dominance in beef processing as well as rendering with the proposed sale of the Allen family’s 50 per cent stake in Slaney to ABP.
This investment would give ABP effective control of up to 28 per cent of the beef kill and three of the six rendering plants in the country, he said.
While the investment will be subject to clearance by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), Mr Burns said the IFA wanted the Government to make a submission to the CCPC through the Minister for Agriculture on the importance of guaranteeing competition in processing and rendering for farmers.
Mr Burns, who is a candidate in the IFA’s forthcoming presidential election, also called on Mr Coveney to tackle the price gap that has opened up between Irish and British cattle prices and remove the obstacles inhibiting the live export trade to Northern
“At the most recent Beef Forum meeting chaired by the Minister, Bord Bia confirmed that the average Irish/UK price gap for 2015 has widened to 82cent per kilogram or €293 per head,” he said.
Separately, Mr Coveney has said he expects Ireland’s beef export licence with the US to be widened to include mince in the first quarter of this year.
Only about 2,000 tonnes of beef, which is worth about €12 million, has been exported to the US since the lifting of its long-standing trade embargo early last year, well short of the Government’s €100 million target.
However, most experts believe the market will not take off until the current deal is expanded to include mince, known in the trade as manufactured beef.
“I would be hopeful that it might be able to happen in the first quarter of this year, “ Mr Coveney said, while acknowledging differences in hygiene protocols surrounding E.coli still needed to be bridged.
Ireland remains the only EU state granted access to the US market since the BSE-inspired embargo of the 1990s.
Six Irish processing plants have been granted US export licences: Foyle Meats Donegal, Slaney Foods International, Dawn Charleville, ABP Clones, Kepak Kilbeggan and Kepak Longford.
The current deal between Dublin and Washington is only for high-value steak cuts, such as fillet, rib-eye and sirloin. Premium beef imports, however, represent only a small part of the overall US beef market, as most upmarket traders source prime cuts locally.