IFA defends 24-hour beef-price protests

Ibec group for meat factories saysmove is ‘unnecessary and misguided’

Farmers protest outside the Meadow Meats plant in Rathdowney, Co Laois. Thousands of farmers assembled at 30 meat plants across the country in support of the IFA’s 24-hour beef price protest. Photograph: Finbarr O’Rourke

The Irish Farmers Association has strongly defended its 24-hour protests about cattle prices outside 30 meat factories throughout the Republic, which are due to continue until this afternoon.

The protests, which are the first in nearly 15 years, began at 3pm yesterday, with farmers arguing they now get €350 per head less for cattle than their counterparts in the UK.

Farmers last night carried placards outside the factories with the slogan “Beef Price Rip-Off’’, and were adamant that the protests would be the start of a long campaign if their demands were not met.

IFA national livestock chairman Henry Burns said the message to the factories was very clear. "Farmers have had enough, and are not prepared to tolerate loss-making prices any longer, especially when our main markets are returning much higher prices.''

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Mr Burns said farmers could not continue to sell cattle at a loss. "Teagasc figures show that on our most efficient farms producers need a base price of at least €4/kg to make a small margin and €4.50/kg to make a return on investment and labour.''

Meat Industry Ireland, the Ibec group representing the factories, criticised the protests as "unnecessary, misguided and counterproductive''.

It said they would only serve to disrupt business and damage Ireland’s export reputation without having any impact on European beef prices. “Cattle prices are strengthening and the trend from the market is positive,’’ said a spokesman.

EU average

Rejecting the Meat Industry Ireland assertions, Mr Burns said factories had refused to pass on the higher UK market prices for beef to Irish farmers. UK prices had increased by more than €100 per head in recent weeks and Irish prices were also below the EU average.

He said a recent Teagasc survey revealed that incomes on livestock farms were extremely low, down between 13 per cent and 22 per cent last year.

Mr Burns said the IFA had repeatedly asked Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to deal with issues on beef, including resolving the problems for the live trade to the North, the need for more competition and transparency in the trade, and for increased monitoring and controls on carcase trim, weights and classification for farmers in the factories.

Mr Coveney is scheduled to preside tomorrow at the third meeting of the Beef Forum, which is representative of the various groups involved in the industry.

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times