There will be shortages of beef on supermarket shelves in the coming days if a major dispute with farmers is not resolved, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) has claimed.
Edmond Phelan, president of the farmers group said “the big supermarkets will have no beef before the week is out unless there is a major breakthrough on this protest”.
For over a week farmers have staged pickets outside several meat processing plants, blocking trucks from entering factories, in protest over current prices received for cattle.
However, the suggestion of major beef shortages in the coming days was played down by retailer representatives and Meat Industry Ireland (MII), the representative group for processors.
While blockades were having a serious impact on customers and business, “we are not yet at the stage of white shelves in the domestic market”, MII said.
“It should be remembered that the home market accounts for 10 per cent of all the beef we produce. It is the case, however, that some customers in our export markets have not be served in recent days due to the blockages at processing facilities here.”
Previous talks with a number of parties failed to end the beef dispute, as despite several concessions for farmers, the talks did not discuss the issue of beef prices.
The talks had included the MII, Irish Farmers' Association (IFA), Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed, and Beef Plan, a grassroots farmers group, which previously led protests outside plants.
The current protests are being led by a group calling themselves Independent Farmers of Ireland, who on Monday selected three national representatives to take part in any future negotiations.
Following its first meeting, the group unveiled a 13-point manifesto highlighting issues it wanted addressed including legal action, labelling, quality assurance and age limits.
Among its demands are for bonuses on cattle under 36 months of age, the removal of 70-day pre-slaughter movement restrictions, clear labelling around the origin of meat, and for Irish beef to be put first.
In a statement, Independent Farmers of Ireland added it would continue to peacefully protest for as long as it was needed, or until such a time that its national representatives were allowed to negotiate to “ensure the survival of a beef production system which has one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world”.
Meanwhile, Beef Plan called on retailers to engage in the talks on beef prices.
The movement said retailers were a “key stakeholder” in the discussions and that previous talks were “seriously hampered” by their absence.
Backing the call for retailers to use their influence in the stand-off, Eddie Punch, ICSA general secretary, said the number of cattle slaughtered over the last week had dropped considerably.
“Supermarkets work on a very short supply chain . . . If everything got back on track by the end of this week, you should be okay,” he said. But if no resolution was found in the dispute, shortages in supermarkets would “definitely be on the cards”, he said.
However, David Fitzsimons, Retail Excellence chief executive, a representative group for retailers, said "all of the supply chains are continuing, and have continued to keep up".
Mr Fitzsimons said the pickets could disrupt the supply chain to retailers “if it’s ramped up in terms of blocking factories, but at the moment it doesn’t”.
MII said its members “remain ready to work constructively with any process the Minster might establish with a view to bringing to an end these protests”.