ICSA WELCOMES COVENEY’S LATE CONVERSION TO REGULATOR IDEA

11 SEPTEMBER 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed comments by Tanaiste Simon Coveney that a regulator for the beef sector might be a serious runner, five years after he rejected such a proposal by ICSA when he was agriculture minister. “We welcome the Tanaiste’s late conversion to our regulator idea even if it would have been much better if he had taken action when he was agriculture minister.”

“ICSA proposed a regulator for the beef sector back in 2014 to the then Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, at the ploughing. Our specific points were that the QA bonus was being manipulated by factories to undermine competition for cattle and to undermine marts. We also raised serious questions about ensuring fair play for farmers in terms of grading, level of trim and general scrutiny of what was going on behind meat factory doors.”

“Unfortunately, Simon Coveney rejected our suggestion saying that we couldn’t allow any negative perceptions of the beef industry to emerge. Sadly, that lack of determination to face down the meat processors at that time has indirectly led to the current catastrophe for the beef sector. For too long, politicians from various political parties have been afraid to take on the beef barons and have allowed them to progressively make things worse and worse for farmers. Meanwhile, such inaction has allowed supermarkets and processors to make ever greater profits off the back of the primary producer.”

“However, Simon Coveney’s comments about the need for a regulator are better late than never. ICSA believes we need compulsory audits of who makes what from the food chain and complete transparency over what profits are being made, not only on beef, but on all the fifth quarter products as well.  Back at one of the original beef roundtable talks in 2014-15, ICSA alleged that the fifth quarter was worth at least €150 per animal but we were laughed at by meat factory representatives and neither the Minister nor other farm representatives at the time supported us on this.”

“We now believe that the fifth quarter is worth €200 per animal which is a massive bonus compared to twenty years ago when it was a net cost. However, farmers have not seen a red cent of all the money being made from offal, energy and cosmetics by the beef industry and it is now time for a full audit of this to determine what is a fair share for farmers.”

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MEAT INDUSTRY IRELAND MUST RECONSIDER DECISION TO ABSTAIN FROM TALKS

9 SEPTEMBER 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has called on Meat Industry Ireland (MII) to reconsider its kneejerk decision to adjourn their participation in the beef crisis talks. “There is still time between now and 7pm this evening for a change of stance on this, otherwise they are simply pressing the self-destruct button on the beef industry here,” he said.

“The onus is on the processors now; it is up to them to come to the talks and to bring real offers to the table. Current beef prices mean that every system of beef farming is losing money. The meat industry can no longer ignore the reality that beef farmers have to make a living, because without them making a living, there will be no future for their business either.”

“Farmers cannot survive at current prices which are way below the cost of production. ICSA is adamant that each and every mechanism through which a sustainable beef price can be achieved must be explored. Cracks are beginning to show in the 30 month rule and equally the 70 day rule is becoming more and more difficult to justify.”

“I would urge MII to get to table and engage meaningfully with us on these important issues,” he concluded.

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PRICE MUST BE CENTRE STAGE ALONG WITH 30 MONTHS, GRID REFORM AND TRANSPARENCY OVER FOOD CHAIN AT BEEF TALKS

6 SEPTEMBER 2019

The unsustainably low beef price, 30 month rule and other beef grid issues, and price transparency over the food chain are key issues for ICSA ahead of Monday’s beef talks according to ICSA president Edmond Phelan.

“It is now up to the beef processors to bring real offers to the table at these talks if they want to resume business and ensure a future for beef processing in Ireland. They have completely forgotten that if farmers can’t make a profit, there will be no future for their business either.”

“We expect the meat industry to engage on the premise that prices are unsustainably low and all mechanisms through which a sustainable beef price can be achieved must be explored. Current beef price means that every system of beef farming is losing money,” he said.

“The 30 month rule needs to be scrapped. ICSA has consistently maintained that this is merely a racket to keep farmers down and it can no longer be justified. This has been exposed now with the statements by Supermacs and by Lidl that 30 months is not an issue for their consumers. The 70 day rule is just a devise to undermine free trade at livestock marts and is an anti-competitive measure that should be investigated by the CCPC.”

“ICSA will also be insisting that the suckler herd needs a better bonus for U grade cattle. Factories have made a killing from the grid over many years but especially with the increase in dairy stock and some of this money must be returned in the form of better bonuses at the top end of the grid. We also want to see a plan to deliver stability and profitability to bull beef.”

“We need transparency over the food chain and who makes what. ICSA wants to see openness about what money is being made from the fifth quarter as well as an accurate assessment of how much the farmer gets from the retail sales of beef. ICSA was the first farm organisation to call for a regulator to have powers to scrutinise the margins. We now believe that this must also happen at EU level, and we want compulsory audits across Europe. This is not just an Irish problem. Across Europe, there are demands that farmers must get a fair price to reflect their costs of production.”

“ICSA is also demanding that a promotional fund is required to counteract market difficulties and bad press for beef. The beef sector has been the focus of a relentless campaign of negativity in relation to health and climate change, as well as orchestrated and well-funded efforts to push the vegan agenda. ICSA rejects these claims but submits that not enough is being done by beef processors, Government and the EU to counteract the hostile commentary.”

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CONTINGENCY PLANS MUST BE PUT IN PLACE FOR ADDITIONAL CALF NUMBERS

5 SEPTEMBER 2019

ICSA suckler chair John Halley has said Minister Michael Creed must put contingency plans in place to deal with the large volume of calves coming in from the dairy herd. “Teagasc have categorically stated that these calves are worthless. There is now zero incentive for anybody to take on these calves. It is a futile practice that will never turn a profit for a beef farmer,” he said.

“In light of this, preparations need to be made to avoid chaotic scenes next spring. 2019 proved difficult enough and the number of calves is only set to rise with nobody willing to take them on. Beef farmers can no longer be expected to take up the slack; it is a road we can no longer afford to go down and the responsibility ultimately has to lie with the sector that bred them, in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture.”

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TEAGASC FINDINGS ON LACK OF PROFITABILITY MUST BE CENTRE STAGE IN BEEF CRISIS TALKS

5 SEPTEMBER 2019

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham said that figures from Teagasc showing complete lack of profitability underline the need for reality from beef processors and retailers in dealing with the factory protests. “Lack of profitability due to an unsustainably low price must be centre stage in beef crisis talks.”

“It is now crystal clear that the ruthless exploitation of farmers for many years by processors and retailers has blown up in their face and that solutions to the beef factory protests must involve recognition that current beef prices are utterly unsustainable.” Mr Graham was responding to comments made by Teagasc head of drystock, Pearse Kelly, at a beef meeting in Kilkenny on Tuesday night (3 Sep).

Teagasc has now admitted that at current prices, a suckler to beef enterprise will lose €150 per cow, and that assumes that the finished animal gets the 12c QPS bonus. The analysis suggests that rearing a dairy calf to beef will lead to a loss of at least €150/head and over €200/head where there is Jersey cross breeding involved.

“Unfortunately, all of this demonstrates that ICSA has been correct all along to suggest that farmers have no business rearing dairy calves, even if they get them for free. It also suggests that giving farmers a coupled payment for suckler cows is futile and that farmers would be better off with payments over five years to voluntarily reduce suckler numbers.”

Mr Graham added that advice from Teagasc on increasing efficiency, and advice from ICBF on producing better stock, means nothing when prices are at current levels. “No amount of efficiencies could ever make up the gap. Mr Kelly’s presentation last night clearly indicated that no beef production system is profitable at current prices. These findings must also serve as a wake-up call for retailers and processors. Business as usual is not working; the model is broken, and we can’t go back to the way things were.”

“ICSA is calling on all retailers to clarify if they are happy to continue exploiting farmers. It’s all very well saying markets are sluggish but the reality is that big supermarkets control almost 90% of beef retail sales in Ireland and the UK and therefore set the market.

They use cheap beef so that consumers are then conned into paying up to €12 for 4 replacement shaving blades which can be manufactured in a few seconds for a few cents in a low wage country. Meanwhile, farmers in Ireland are expected to spend three years producing grass fed beef, complying with the highest animal welfare, quality and traceability standards in the world. After all that effort, supermarkets repay them with a price that was actually available to farmers in 1988.”

ICSA is now insisting that talks to resolve the beef protest must include retailers and meat factory bosses. “There is no point wasting time talking about peripheral issues if we do not address the need for a sustainable beef price,” concluded Mr Graham.

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ICSA CALLS FOR TALKS ON BEEF CRISIS TO RESUME IMMEDIATELY 

4 SEPTEMBER 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has called for talks on the beef crisis to resume urgently and that the unsustainably low beef price must be discussed. “We cannot ignore the elephant in the room any longer which is the fact that current beef price means that every system of beef farming is losing money.”

“Teagasc has confirmed this in the past twenty four hours outlining horrendous losses regardless of efficiency. This is a key reason for protests, and ICSA is now calling on meat factories to walk away from the courts and we are asking protestors to reciprocate by allowing space for real talks to resume.”

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STOCK UP ON BEEF BEFORE IT DISAPPEARS FROM SHELVES

3 SEPTEMBER 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has advised consumers to stock up on beef immediately because we are only days away from beef disappearing off the shelves. “The big supermarkets will have no beef before the week is out unless there is a major breakthrough on this protest. Retailers can no longer bury their heads in the sand because they have happily colluded in the ongoing squeezing of farmers’ margins to the point now where beef farmers are going bust.”

“ICSA is calling on retailers to admit that current beef prices paid to producers are unsustainably low. ICSA is also calling on retailers to admit that consumers have no real preference for 29 month beef over 31 month beef. For too long, this 30 month rule has been used as a stick to beat farmers with on price. It is an anti-competitive device used to further weaken the negotiating position of thousands of small scale farmers who are price takers.”

“ICSA is demanding that retailers must be involved in talks to try to resolve this dispute. The row is about sustainable prices and we have to see if retailers really care about their suppliers. it’s about time we had some fair trade for beef farmers.”

“Meanwhile, ICSA strongly urges consumers to stock up on their favourite beef cuts because beef won’t be available for much longer.”

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CRACKS APPEAR ON COSY CONSENSUS AROUND 30 MONTHS

2 SEPTEMBER 2019

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham has said that cracks are beginning to appear in the cosy consensus around the 30 month age limit for cattle. “News that Supermacs boss Pat McDonagh has said that he has no problem with beef from animals up to 36 months of age, added to the same admission by Lidl, exposes the 30 month rule for what it is – a racket to keep farmers down, unable to sell freely when they want to,” he said.

“It further begs the question why the CCPC has not sent any letters to meat factories challenging this anti-competitive practice. The market has clearly been rigged against farmers who are in a very weak position but the CCPC has had no problem with this. The very fact that all processors continuously operated the same rule, and repeated the same mantra, even though they each have a different portfolio of customers is blatant evidence of cartel like behaviour. But the CCPC has turned a blind eye to this. They avert their gaze from the big three processors and then are hyper proactive in threatening the representatives of small scale farmers who are being crucified in a rigged market.”

“The outcome is the sorry pass we have arrived at today with farmers on their knees and losing money hand over fist. It has now gone too far. So it is now impossible to persuade farmers that they have anything to gain by being responsible and leaving the pickets. For too long, they have acted responsibly, and factories and retailers have responded by squeezing them more and more.”

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ICSA SLAMS SPLITTING ANC PAYMENT IN TWO

29 AUGUST 2019

ICSA rural development chair Tim Farrell has said splitting the ANC payment in two will only add to the financial woes of farmers at this difficult time. Responding to the announcement that 15% of ANC payments will be held back until December Mr Farrell said, “It is incomprehensible how Minister Creed would agree to withhold these badly needed funds from farmers.”

“ICSA understands that changes in EU regulations have specified that payments under ANC will be made in two instalments this year. However, Minister Creed needs to go back to Brussels to tell them this is mindless bureaucracy leading to extra inefficiency in the payments section while farmers suffer.”

“The ANC payment has always been made in one tranche and it worked fine. The EU needs to do serious soul searching if they think that this pedantic nonsense reflects well on Brussels.” Mr Farrell added that ICSA will fight very hard to prevent further hardship on already beleaguered farmers in less favourable areas.

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HEAVY-HANDED LEGAL TACTICS NO SOLUTION TO CHINESE IMPASSE

28 AUGUST 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed the pragmatic approach of protesting farmers to facilitate the Chinese inspection at the Rathdowney plant. “This sensible compromise between the farmers and the Rathdowney management stands in massive contrast to the belligerent approach on-going in the High Court with ABP. I have repeatedly said that heavy-handed legal tactics are no solution to the Chinese impasse. We all want to see more sales to China but farmers have to get their fair share,” he said.

Mr Phelan had visited the protestors at Rathdowney factory yesterday and said that he had consistently supported anything which would increase markets for Irish beef and lamb provided that farmers get their fair share of profits from such deals. However, Mr Phelan said that, so far, farmers had seen nothing out of international trade deals. “Farmers are sick and tired of doing all the work while those further down the food chain grab all the profit. Farmers need a substantial price rise immediately if they are to avoid going bust.”

Mr Phelan was very critical of the actions of one meat processor in heading prematurely to the High Court today. “I am shocked at the aggressive approach of ABP in jumping the gun too quickly by threatening individual farmers with the full rigours of the court. I find it hard to believe that meat factories think that persecuting the very farmers that have made billionaires out of beef barons is the solution to the beef crisis.”

“It beggars belief that nasty litigation is what meat factories are resorting to. A resumption of talks is now all but impossible with this approach. ICSA cannot enter talks while individual farmers who are on their knees are threatened in this manner.”

“Far from being a solution the likely outcome is that many more farmers will now rush to join the protests. This can hardly be the optimum outcome for factories but it is now the likely consequence of their legal bully-boy tactics.”

ENDS