13 MARCH 2018

ICSA president Patrick Kent has called on the Data Protection Commissioner to investigate if the reported IFA levies proposal is GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) compliant. “I am extremely concerned at the potential breach of farmers’ privacy rights under GDPR and data protection rules posed by proposals that meat factories would supply information about their suppliers to IFA.

“Levies are voluntary and many farmers have extreme misgivings about the method of taking money off them without their prior consent. At a very minimum, levies should only be collected from those who have opted in. However, this new proposal to force farmers to sign a no-levies document which will then become a blacklist sent to IFA is outrageous.

“My legal advice is that levies should only ever be deducted on an opt-in basis. There is no way that a farmer can be compelled to sign an opt-out of levies form in respect of livestock or produce supplied to a mart or processor, when it is clear that such confidential information will then be forwarded to IFA.”

“It is highly likely that this will end up being the subject of a claim to the Data Protection Commissioner. However, it is unacceptable that any farmer who objects will be confronted by the might of a meat factory which in turn has the comfort of being indemnified by IFA. I am therefore calling on the Data Protection Commissioner to proactively investigate what is going on here and explain to all farmers just what their rights are under GDPR.”

ICSA represents its members interests in Ireland and at European level and does not take levies.



13 MARCH 2019

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that the announcement on tariff rates by the British Government crystallises our worst fears of the impact of a no-deal Brexit on the Irish beef sector. “The beef farming sector is already in crisis, with prices back up to €200/ head year on year for certain categories of animal. In some cases, farmers have had delays in getting animals processed. This announcement will cause dismay and we cannot underestimate the potential devastation to beef farming.”

“The plans by the UK government outline tariffs on beef of 53% of the EU tariff rate for beef and 100% for sheepmeat. While the beef rate could have been even higher, the distinction is academic as it poses an immense barrier to continued beef exports to the UK. In the short term, we should expect that contracts already signed with UK supermarkets will be honoured but in this kind of scenario all bets are off.  In any event, it is certain that these tariffs will soon begin to cause calamity for our beef exports.”

“The rates imposed on sheep meat are actually much more punitive, presumably because the UK government has decided to protect their sheep farmers but our sheep farmers are not so dependent on the UK for exports.

There is some leeway provided by a tariff rate quota of approximately 125,000 tons for beef at 0% rate. In theory we could avail of some of this quota but it will be open to all other exporters of beef as well including South America.

It is notable that the tariffs will not apply to beef exported to Northern Ireland but it is unclear yet as to how this might pan out.”

In practice, this suggests that Irish beef which is subjected to the tariff will be about 40% dearer than currently and therefore most UK consumers would be deterred from buying it. UK supermarkets would then have to choose between vastly increased beef prices or buying less traceable, low standard beef from South America.



12 MARCH 2019

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said that any farmer considering buying dairy calves should demand a factory contract, to include an agreed price, in advance of purchasing. Mr Graham said, “Farmers even remotely thinking about taking on these calves need a guarantee that there will be an outlet for them in two years’ time that will cover the cost of production, plus a margin.”

Continuing Mr Graham said, “The economics of dairy bull beef simply don’t stack up. Even if you get the calves for free, they are still too expensive at today’s prices and that’s the reality. We have no clarity on the outlook for dairy bull beef so why take the risk and expend two years for nothing? This enterprise is a complete waste of time; it’s bad enough losing money but to have the stress of not knowing when or if you can get your bulls killed is completely unacceptable. Even with steer or heifer systems it is it is absolutely necessary to know what price you can expect in two years’ time. Farmers cannot be expected to undertake long term investment without long term contracts. This year has to be the last year of winter finishers getting burned.”



5 MARCH 2019

ICSA suckler chairman John Halley has said that it is imperative that any initiative to get EU Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for beef should be focused on developing a niche for animal welfare friendly, less intensive suckler beef systems. “Suckler farming is the image used to promote Irish beef but suckler farmers are not getting the return for their system of farming,” he said.

Mr Halley was speaking following a stakeholder meeting on the subject of attaining PGI status for Irish beef, held in Agriculture House last week.

“PGI status should be used as a mechanism to sell suckler beef as a premium product to discerning consumers. There are many reasons why suckler beef should be seen as premium product, including high animal welfare standards, high natural health status and the fact that much of the suckler production is intrinsically linked with maintaining high amenity landscapes in regions where tourism is vital. Any strategy to get PGI status for the entire kill, including dairy beef, risks making the same mistake as the previous attempt in 2009, which was rejected by the EU Commission.”

“If we go for one generic PGI to cover everything, suckler farmers will feel let down that dairy farming interests have triumphed again when in fact, this should be used as a device to improve returns from suckler systems.”

“ICSA believes that if there is any hope, it must be the development of a suckler beef brand, based on natural, extensive, pasture-based farming. We cannot have PGI status for all beef, it just won’t fool consumers. Ideally, this should be done in conjunction with a really beneficial agri-environment scheme that is more like REPS and less like GLAS in terms of delivering significant payment levels to farmers engaged in suckler beef production.”

“There will have to be buy-in from the meat industry to market this as a high value niche product. This will not work if we have artificial incentives to encourage farmers to keep more suckler cows. Instead we need to focus on paying better direct payments to more extensive systems of farming because we have seen time and time again that scarcity is far better than traceability or sustainability for farmers.”



1 MARCH 2019

ICSA Animal Health & Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said he is confident that a DAFM proposal to display herd histories on mart boards has been taken off the table for the foreseeable future as a result of strong opposition from ICSA and other farm organisations at the TB Forum. “As part of the TB Forum ICSA are delivering for drystock farmers on this issue, we need to ensure now that the measure is not introduced by the back door,” he said.

Mr Farrell said that the introduction of herd categorisation or risk based trading at this time would have a devastating impact. He said, “There are simply no mechanisms that could compensate for the devaluation in herds that this would bring about. This information, in a public forum, would wreak havoc on the market and result in many farms going out of business. ICSA will not stand by and allow this to happen when there is scope within the Department to further use this sensitive information in-house when individual cases are identified”

Mr Farrell said that while the TB Forum has its merits, department officials are very focused on pushing through their own demands while resisting demands from farming organisations. “The desire is there from both sides to speed up the eradication process but farmers concerns over adequate disease policy measures and compensation levels will need to be addressed for things to progress.”

He said, “In particular we need to see more commitment from DAFM officials to tackle the deer situation. It is a stated objective of the Department to eliminate TB but this cannot be achieved unless we know exactly what is going on with TB in deer and what can be done to eliminate the risk of transmission to cattle.”

This is why ICSA has been calling for a comprehensive research programme into the link between TB in deer and in cattle. “There must be a research programme and there must be full openness and transparency around the results. The Department mantra that there is no evidence of a link between the ever expanding deer population and the spread of TB rings very hollow when they haven’t done the necessary studies. It is incredulous that despite repeated calls from ICSA, officials from the department’s wildlife section have not sat on the Forum.”

“Likewise, on the badger front, we do not have sufficient trust in the vaccination programme. We have seen big breakdowns in areas where vaccination has been rolled out so it is only right that we question the methodology and effectiveness of the vaccine before any further demands can be placed on farmers. This will require more testing of badgers, including testing prior to vaccination and testing of all culled badgers.”

On the financial side, reactor compensation levels remain a contentious issue, particularly for sucklers cows where the loss of production value is not taken into consideration.  ICSA has been arguing that calves under four months should be considered a unit with their mother if the mother has tested positive for TB. This calf should be removed from the farm with their mother as a disease prevention measure and a valuation on the unit as a whole should be made.”

Again, as a disease prevention measure, ICSA is calling for the urgent establishment of a closed calf to beef units to accommodate calves from reactor herds. “We need to see this established to reduce the potential for these calves to further spread the disease as they are dispersed around the country.”

 Neither do the overall costings of the programme adequately reflect the true cost of the programme to farmers. “These issues have yet to be resolved. The danger is that the Forum will be shut down once the Department have got what they want out of the process while these and other issues are put on the long finger.”



27 FEBRUARY 2019

Speaking from London, ICSA president Patrick Kent has said there is almost universal agreement amongst farm organisations that a no-deal Brexit would be a disaster for farming. Mr Kent made his comments following a meeting today of officials from a broad spectrum of farm organisations which operate under the umbrella Fairness for Farmers in Europe.

Commenting Mr Kent said, “It is clear from our talks this afternoon with our colleagues from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain that a no-deal Brexit is the worst possible outcome for farmers on these isles. While the Irish Government has put certain measures in place in an attempt to offset the fallout from Britain crashing out of the EU, it will never be enough. Likewise, for our counterparts in the North and Great Britain the consequences would be dire.”

Delegates at the meeting were unified in urging the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove to recognise the importance of avoiding a no-deal Brexit scenario.



22 FEBRUARY 2019

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that he is shocked that ABP UK has got into the business of manufacturing meat free burgers. He described their GBP£250,000 marketing spend on a meat-free, plant based food range, as outrageous. “This is insult to beef farmers everywhere but particularly Irish beef farmers given the dire position the sector is in at present. ABP UK have prospered greatly off the backs of hard pressed beef farmers and to throw this in their faces at a time like this is an utter disgrace.”

Mr Kent suggested ABP UK should be more concerned with their core business and that the money would be better spent on paying a better price to beef farmers and promoting greater beef consumption. “At a time when beef farmers can’t even cover their costs, the gall of advocating plant based quarter pounders rather than treating beef farmers fairly is contemptuous in the extreme.”

Link below to GlobalMeatNews article ‘ABP UK enters plant-based market with Equals range.’




22 FEBRUARY 2019

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that the announcement on increased state aid limits does not reflect the absolute devastation that would result from a hard Brexit on the beef sector. “Increasing the three year state aid limit from €15,000 to €25,000 would barely cover the losses already incurred by a sector where beef price is down up to €200 per head on certain categories of cattle such as bull beef.”

“However, if there is a no-deal Brexit and the UK applies full WTO tariffs to beef imports, then the state aid announcement will not even remotely cover beef losses. In that case the Irish Government will have to demand a comprehensive EU package to add to extra state aid.”

“ICSA met senior EU officials in Brussels earlier this week and we made the case very strongly that Brexit is Europe’s problem. Talking about solidarity between the EU-27 is fine but meaningless unless it is backed up by extra funds. Irish beef farmers did not cause Brexit and they cannot be expected to carry the can. While Ireland is committed to the EU, such commitment must be reciprocated to protect Irish farmers.”



22 FEBRUARY 2019

ICSA sheep chairman Sean McNamara has called the revelation that factories and marts will not be obliged to install systems for reading EID tags as ludicrous. “The onus is now on the Department of Agriculture to make the installation of the necessary systems compulsory as a matter of urgency. Sheep farmers cannot be expected to fork out for electronic tags if they’re not going to be read,” he said.

From 1 June 2019, farmers must tag all sheep and lambs with an electronic tag set. However, even with an exception secured for lambs under 12 months moving directly to slaughter to only require a single electronic tag, the estimated bill for sheep farmers is €20m per year.

“The reality is that mandatory EID tagging has been forced on us. It will do nothing that would result in sheep farmers achieving a better price. Neither will the consumer benefit as there is no additional traceability gained from their use. We were told that EID was a market requirement but if the factories and marts are allowed to adopt an indifferent attitude, why are we wasting our money? The least we should be able to expect is that the need for written dispatch dockets would be eliminated and that the factory or mart would be able to print off the necessary paperwork.”



Michael Gove’s announcement that he will impose food import tariffs to protect British farmers will add to Brexit worries for farmers here.

In many respects, Gove’s comments illustrate the many contradictions in the pro-Brexit position. It is at odds with the pro-free-trade ideology espoused by many Brexiteers.

The problem for Irish farmers is that it crystallises the worst outcome of a no-deal Brexit. Tariffs on beef imports to the UK will hit Irish farmers in the no-deal scenario. We are looking at 58% additional cost on our beef exports and 52% extra on cheese exports, at WTO tariff levels. The Government costs these these tariffs at €1.7 billion per annum.

Here in Brussels, there is widespread frustration with the UK position.

There is little sign of EU concessions on the Withdrawal Agreement which is a logical response to the incongruity of Theresa May voting against her own agreement.

Moreover, the likely position of Brussels is to impose tariffs on UK imports as well, in the absence of an agreement outcome.

Meanwhile, Gove will have to grapple with whether he imposes such tariffs on all UK food imports which will cost UK consumers or selectively applies tariffs to non-EU food imports which is potentially illegal under WTO rules but which might be justified on the grounds of national emergency and on the calculation that a WTO appeal could take years. Either way, he risks antagonising countries such as Australia and Canada which are prime targets for UK trade deals.

Gove’s comments will further intensify the pressure for a package to avoid a catastrophe for our farmers. ICSA has spent the last few days in Brussels pushing for such a package. However, while the EU Commission stands ready to help, the question of how to fund such a package is not simple.

Options could include a Brussels rescue package modelled on the support given in the aftermath of the Russian ban on EU food exports but the scale of EU exports to the UK suggests a higher sum in the region of €10 billion. This is complicated by the fact that most of current expenditure is accounted for and, critically, that the EU Commission budget proposals for the period 2020-27 have not been agreed by EU heads of state and are unlikely to be progressed anytime soon.

Another possible source of support would be to allow exceptional state aid. This could involve allowing Ireland to exceed its EU Budget Deficit rules. Neither EU funding nor exchequer funding are palatable options for those who control the purse strings but the consequences for our €13 billion agri-food export sector cannot be understated.

Even the form of a rescue package is difficult. Traditional instruments such as buying into intervention or export refunds are problematic to say the least. Some form of compensatory payment to farmers is likely the most appropriate but by no means straightforward mechanism.

Already, Irish beef farmers in particular, are suffering massive losses. Beef price to farmers is down up to 50c/kg year-on-year and this equates to €200 on a 400kg carcase.  In a sector notorious for tight margins, such losses are not sustainable by Irish farmers.

It is still not too late to hope that a compromise – probably involving some form of extension of Article 50 or a transition period without a deal – can be agreed. This is primarily a matter for the UK but both the EU and the Irish Government will have to pull out all the stops to ensure that Irish farmers do not carry a massive cost from Brexit which would have huge knock-on implications for rural communities and the economy. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of beef farming in Ireland is on the line.