Beef dispute: Meadow Meats says 100 jobs at risk as factory faces closure

Processors says thousands of job losses are now inevitable due to blockades

 

A meat processing factory has said it is facing potential closure with the loss of almost 100 jobs due to continuing blockades linked to the beef crisis.

On Monday night, the owners of Meadow Meats, the largest employer in Rathdowney, Co Laois, said it could not rule out closing for good due to its inability to operate.

The plant temporarily laid off 92 workers recently due to a blockade. Management say none of those involved in the protest at its gates are suppliers of theirs.

The development comes as Meat Industry Ireland (MII), representing processors, said thousands of job losses are now inevitable due to the blockades.

Meadow Meats said it has been contacted in recent days by farmers seeking to sell 10,000 cattle but they were unable to purchase them due to the ongoing dispute.

“The current situation is unsustainable and we cannot rule out having to close the business, meaning Laois’s only beef factory would not be available to service the local farmer community,” it said in a statement on Monday night.

The plant had previously secured a permanent court order barring the blockade.

There were protests outside 14 meat processing factories on Monday after some farmers rejected a deal brokered over the weekend aimed at resolving a bitter seven-week dispute over prices paid for beef.

One of seven groups representing beef farmers, Independent Farmers of Ireland (IFI) said last night saying they were neither accepting nor rejecting the proposals which emerged from talks between farmers and representative of the beef processing sector.

The deal offers an immediate range of bonuses for beef producers in return for the ending of the protests. However, the deal will not come into effect until all the pickets have been lifted.

It has since emerged that some farmers involved in the pickets have decided to continue their protest because the issue of price has not been addressed to their satisfaction.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed had claimed all the parties in the dispute had approved the agreement which will see increased prices for beef farmers and reform of the sector.

In a statement on Sunday night the IFI said reports that all parties had signed off on the deal were “not true”.

Protesting

The IFI said they had to put the deal to their members protesting at factory gates to let them decide.

The statement said meetings would take place to achieve a consensus and added that the leadership of the organisation “have the approval to negotiate but not the power to make the final decision as this is a democratic movement.”

The deal canonly come into effect when pickets and blockades by farmers at meat factories are lifted.

A spokesman for another farmers’ representative group, the Beef Plan Movement, said he is recommending farmers accept the agreement reached in talks at the weekend.

However, Hugh Doyle also warned he has no control over pickets outside processing plants.

He told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland when he drove to Ballyjamesduff in Co Cavan explain the deal to protesting farmers it was rejected. “They said until the base price is raised they won’t budge.” Mr Doyle said he had no control over the picket “it just started organically”.

“You have no idea of the frustration and sense of abandonment felt by farmers. They (farmers and processors) just don’t understand each other.”

He said farmers were seeing their livelihoods “going down the toilet” and “they can’t pay their bills”.

He called on all parties in the dispute to “take a step back” and find some middle ground.

The other parties to the dispute were Meat Industry Ireland (MII), the beef producer’s representative organisation; the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA); the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA); Macra na Feirme; the Beef Plan Movement and the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association.

The senior director of MII has claimed that some of the protesters outside meat processing plants are not suppliers.

Cormac Healy also said that irreparable damage is being done to the Irish beef industry and there remains “a big question” about the number of customers who will remain after the dispute.

“If people were sent forward as representatives for the protestors, their asks were addressed. We should have expected that everyone would now consider the matter resolved.”

Mr Healy acknowledged that some discussions about base prices were ongoing with individual companies, but they were essentially “being blackmailed” by those blockading the gates.

“The meat industry entered the talks in good faith even though the blockade continued. The negotiations went on all weekend. We listened to the asks of the seven farming organisations.

“Agreement was reached on those asks, they were replied to and responded to. The farming organisations left the meeting saying agreement had been reached.”

Pickets

Other farm groups have committed to end the pickets outside meat factories, which have shut down 80 per cent of production in recent weeks and led to 3,000 people working in processing plants being temporarily laid off.

Beef processors, in turn, have agreed to end all legal proceedings against those involved in the blockades.

“I wish to thank all participants in this process for their contribution towards agreeing a way forward for the Irish beef sector,” Mr Creed said.

IFA president Joe Healy cautioned the deal was “far from a perfect”.

Beef Agreement: the main points

- An increase in the bonus for steers and heifers from 12c/kg to 20c/kg

- A new bonus of 8c/kg for steers and heifers aged between 30 to 36 months, which meet all non-age related existing criteria, and which up to now have not received any bonus

- A new bonus of 12c/kg for steers and heifers under 30 months which grade O- and fat class 4+

- Reduction in the 70-day residency requirement to 60 days on the last farm

- A new beef market price index from Bord Bia covering cattle prices and beef market prices from main export markets and offal prices

- An immediate scientific review of the quality payment grid by Teagasc

- An independent review of market and customer requirements, specifically in relation to the four bonus criteria currently in operation in the Irish beef sector

- An independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal, including the fifth quarter, along the supply chain

- A summary of competition law issues as relevant to the Irish beef sector

In order to qualify for bonuses, animals have to meet a certain established set of criteria.

IFA livestock chairman Angus Woods said a beef market task force will be set up and independently chaired to oversee the implementation of all the elements in the agreement, with clear timelines and full stakeholder engagement. The agreement will not take effect until the pickets of meat factories have been lifted.