A “small minority” of farmers continuing to protest at meat factories around the country are threatening the entire Irish beef industry, a group representing major processors has claimed.
Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which speaks for large profitable companies including APB, Dawn and Kepak, also said ongoing “illegal blockades have now caused severe long-term damage to sector”.
While many beef farmers have pulled back from months-long demonstrations over the price being paid for cattle after a deal was struck last weekend between the companies and six farm representative organisations, protests continue at 18 factories, according to MII.
In a statement on Friday evening, an MII spokesman alleged ongoing intimidation, blackmail and threats to staff, contractors, hauliers and farmer suppliers at the demonstrations as well as the involvement of ”non-farming and sinister elements”.
A photograph released by Dawn Meats, dated September 16th, purports to show a protester wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a scarf covering part of his face. The man is among a group including a uniformed garda at the company's plant in Grannagh, Co Kilkenny.
MII said the “illegal action of a small minority is negatively impacting the livelihoods of thousands of workers, farmers with cattle to sell, hauliers and other service providers, and is putting the entire Irish beef sector in jeopardy”.
The spokesman added: “We have now passed the point of severe long-term damage to the sector.”
He did not detail the long-term damage to the industry, but said customers placing orders for the next month have been forced to source beef from alternative suppliers across Europe and beyond.
“Over the last number of weeks, genuine farmers have missed out on the sale of cattle for processing worth €120 million,” he added.
Also on Friday, Larry Goodman's ABP blamed ongoing demonstrations at its Cahir, Co Tipperary factory for 100 temporary lay-offs, which it said is in addition to 355 temporarily laid off earlier in the week.
“This regrettable action is a direct result of the ongoing illegal blockades at the site by seven protestors,” a spokeswoman said.
“The protestors’ illegal actions are now putting all jobs at ABP Cahir at risk, as well as the livelihoods of 1,300 farmers who supply cattle to the site. The illegal blockade has cost these local suppliers in the region of €6 million.”
However, in a statement issued by the protesting farmers at 7pm on Friday, they said they had reached a consensus to formally stand down the protest on the basis that a process to bring about reform has been started.
The company has temporarily laid off 1,463 staff countrywide since the first protest began outside ABP’s Bandon factory in Co Cork on July 28th.
Beef Plan Movement (BPM), which started the protests but has since urged farmers to stand down, said a further six groups of protesting farmers are meeting to consider their options in terms of accepting or refusing the deal brokered last weekend.
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has warned that the agreement could only come into force if all protests and blockades ended.
Dermot O’Brien of BPM said they are doing “everything in our power” to ensure the agreement is accepted by both sides.
“The Beef Plan Movement is engaging meaningfully with all of the other stakeholders to try and move the agreement along and to bring this agreement into the public arena so we can move along,” Mr O’Brien said.
“We want those plants opened. We want all plants running and slaughtering animals for those farmers who need to slaughter their animals who are reaching upper age limits of 31 weeks,” he added.
On Wednesday, the first blockade was lifted from a Dawn Meats factory in Slane, Co Meath, followed by another suspension of protesting at ABP in Ferrybank, Co Waterford.
Dawn Meats said that upwards of €2.25 million worth of finished beef is being “illegally” refused exit from its Charleville plant as a result of 10 farmers engaging in picket lines.