Belfast Telegraph

Offer of government talks to call off beef protests rejected

The row has stemmed over the price of beef, which is at its lowest point in years.

(David Cheskin/PA)
(David Cheskin/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The ongoing disagreement over beef pricing shows no sign of resolution as farmers reject the Government’s offer of talks.

The Department of Agriculture claims it reached out to members of the Beef Plan Movement, who have been holding protests outside meat factories across the country, in order to halt the demonstrations and enter a phase of discussion.

The row has stemmed over the price of beef, which is at its lowest point in years, with many farmers claiming they are struggling to survive and will be forced out of business without Government intervention.

The Department of Agriculture has previously stated that it cannot legally have any role in determining beef prices, as it is not the department’s role to “comment on commercial decisions taken by private entities in an open market”.

The Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed released a statement on Thursday morning, expressing disappointment that the offer of talks had been rejected.

“The Minister deeply regrets that efforts by his office to reach out to the Beef Plan Movement to enter a process of dialogue and to temporarily suspend their protests has been rejected,” a statement said.

“A round table discussion regarding the current market difficulties involving all stakeholders including Minister Creed, farm organisations, representatives of the beef processing sector, Meat Industry Ireland, the Department and its agencies has been offered to the Beef Plan movement.

“In light of the announcement of lay offs in the meat processing sector, the difficult income situation facing farmers with livestock for slaughter and on animal welfare grounds, the Minister is again calling on the Beef Plan Movement to reflect on its position and to take up the invitation to enter into talks.”

The Beef Plan Movement has previously said the precondition that protests must be called off to allow talks to happen is unacceptable to the group.

The group said it is “willing and ready to sit down for talks without preconditions attached”, as it believes the preconditions represent a non-level playing field in the beef industry.

A threat of court action by Meat Industry Ireland (MII) against farmers engaged in the current beef protests was met with outrage on Thursday afternoon, with farming organisations calling the move “a bluff” and a “diversionary tactic”.

“Rather than addressing the legitimate issues, particularly price, which is at the core of the protest, MII have now resorted to scare tactics which have no basis for a solution to the crisis,” an IFA statement said.

The Beef Plan Movement has presented 13 issues it has with the industry that need to be addressed in order to make beef farming sustainable and profitable for farmers, including the use of an upper age limit to influence the price offered for steers and heifers and young bulls, carcass weights threshold for cattle and sheep changed without reasonable notice period, and excessive trim being taken from carcasses.

  • The use of an upper age limit to influence the price offered for steers and heifers and young bulls
  • The use of an upper limit of herd-to-herd movements to influence the price offered
  • 70 days single farm residency required for recognition as a Bord Bia quality-assured animal
  • Carcass weights threshold for cattle and sheep changed without reasonable notice period
  • Excessive trim being taken from carcass (cattle and sheep)

The Irish Farming Association (IFA) presidential candidate and national treasurer, Tim Cullinan, described the response to the beef crisis from the minister as “half-hearted and totally inadequate”.

“I have previously called on the minister to bring the three main principal beef processors – ABP (Larry Goodman), Kepak (Keatings) and Dawn (Queallys and Dan Brown), into Agriculture House with farmer representatives to find a proper solution,” Mr Cullinan said.

“One has to question the minister’s commitment to farmers here as it appears this belated response has only arrived from the Minister at the first mention of job losses in the factories.

“What’s needed now is meaningful, long-term solutions that can only be hammered out by having all the key participants themselves at the table.

“We want long-term solutions for beef farmers so that they get a proper and deserved income and not short-term interventions to take the heat off the minister.

“The minister must get the principal players in this around the table and we need to see him move on this before the weekend.”

PA

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