Beef talks between farmers and meat processors set to resume on Monday

Proposals under consideration include making more information on pricing available to farmers

Talks between meat processors and farmers, aimed at defusing the beef price crisis, have been delayed until next Monday.

The initial hope was that the group of stakeholders convened for talks earlier this week would meet again on Thursday but the Department told farmers and representatives of the meat industry that this would not be possible.

A communication issued by the Department on behalf of the independent chair of the talks Michael Dowling, which has been seen by The Irish Times, outlined the conclusions and next steps agreed at discussions held overnight on Monday.

The talks were held between the meat companies and farmer organisations, including the grassroots Beef Plan movement, which organised pickets of factories over the summer, arguing that prices paid at factory gates for cattle were too low to support the sector.

The talks were not attended by Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, however, with a view emerging that the Minister should attend the next session if an agreement is to be reached.

According to the document circulated by the Department, an emphasis will be put on measures to increase market transparency and make more information on pricing of cattle available to farmers. Terms of reference are to be agreed by Friday week, August 23rd.

Meat Industry Ireland (MII), the representative body for processors, is to consult with its members on more contentious issues, such as bonuses paid for cattle under 30 months, which farmers say arbitrarily limits their income and is based on flimsy evidence.

The processors are also being consulted on sharing more information about the weight of animals prior to slaughter, and whether verbal contracts between factories and farmers could be replaced by written contracts.

The industry body was expected to revert with feedback from its member organisations by Thursday, but by Thursday evening no further information had been issued to other stakeholders by MII. A spokesman for MII said there was “no update on these issues at the moment”.

Other actions agreed focus on Brexit and the need to open up new markets. Bord Bia has been tasked with submitting an application to secure EU funding for suckler beef promotion in key EU markets, and to investigate market opportunities for Irish grass-fed bull beef. The food promotion agency has also undertaken to conduct an exercise to provide more information on retail price developments, and to try and negotiate market access in third countries without age restrictions on beef.

The Department of Agriculture also committed that a public consultation on the EU’s unfair trading practices directive will consider whether there is a requirement for an independent grocery regulator.

It was also agreed that retailers should be invited to future stakeholder meetings.