Beef dispute talks end with ‘wide-ranging’ agreement

Farmers will be ‘disappointed’ with lack of deal on increase in beef prices, says IFA

Beef cattle in Kilkenny. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/Irish Times

Beef cattle in Kilkenny. File photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/Irish Times

 

Talks on the beef dispute have concluded with an agreement but the Irish Farmers’ Association(IFA) says its members will be “disappointed” that there has been no deal on increasing beef prices.

Protests over beef prices in recent weeks closed some 20 meat processing plants across the State before the talks, hosted by the Department of Agriculture, got under way last week.

Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed said the talks between the industry stakeholders had “successfully concluded” with an agreement on “very significant issues”.

“Progress was made on important initiatives aimed at improving transparency along the supply chain, and improving communication between industry and farmers,” he said in a statement.

IFA president Joe Healy said the discussions had taken place on the precondition that prices would not be discussed, a feature he described as “ignoring the elephant in the room”.

He said despite movement on a number of issues, “beef farmers will be disappointed that there is no increase on the main issue of beef prices”.

However, he said the “IFA made it very clear to [Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed] additional EU and Government Brexit supports and direct aid for farmers are urgently required”.

On imports, Mr Healy said the IFA had highlighted the damage to the EU beef market from “sub-standard beef imports from outside the EU”. He said it was agreed “that imports which do not meet the same stringent standards as EU producers are banned”.

There was agreement on the need for a fully funded Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) and to protect its share of the EU Budget, and ensure that the current level of direct payments to Irish beef farmers is protected.

Mr Healy said the IFA had secured a strong position for additional funding for targeted direct support for suckler cows.

Grocery regulator

It was also agreed Bord Bia would develop a beef market price index model and that an independent grocery regulator is required.

On the Quality Payment System it was agreed that Teagasc would review differences on the grid which used in assessing the quality of animals.

The Department of Agriculture agreed to introduce an appeal system for carcass classification in meat plants where there is manual grading only. IFA is seeking an appeals system in all meat plants. Farmers will also have access to carcass images on request.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents the meat processors, said it was pleased that “a wide-ranging agreement” had been reached.

MII said progress has been made but it recognised the current “very weak beef market” had “consequential knock-on impact on producer beef prices”. MII said the issue remains a major pressure point in the sector.

MII said among the agreements was an undertaking to broaden the criteria to increase the number of animals eligible for bonus payments.

It said it had also agreed provision of a live weighing service where requested, four months’ advance notification of any changes to carcass weight limits and development of a system to provide farmers with carcass images, should they request them.

Measures aimed at increasing transparency in the supply chain were also agreed, including an independent study on price composition, additional price reporting and consensus on the need for an independent groceries regulator.

“To deviate from producing animals that the marketplace requires would have been a retrograde step for the entire sector. As we face the mounting danger of a no-deal Brexit, the reality is that we need to do everything possible to hold our position in the UK market,” MII said in a statement.