OVERHAUL OF BEEF GRID MUST REFLECT IMPACT OF DAIRY EXPANSION

19 AUGUST 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said a complete overhaul of the beef grid is needed ahead of the resumption of beef talk in Backweston this morning. “The grid needs to be simplified. There is no question that better bonuses can be paid for U grades as well as R+ grades without any further deductions on lower grade cattle. The grid was devised to be price neutral. However, the fact that the grid is no longer price neutral is clear for all to see,” he said.

“Factories are cleaning up on deductions on lower grade cattle because of the increasing numbers of lower grade cattle since the grid was introduced ten years ago. The dairy expansion has caused this, and the grid must reflect these changes.”

Talks will resume at 11 am this morning in Backweston and will again be chaired by former secretary general to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Dowling.

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CYNICAL TACTICS BY PROCESSORS SEE LAMB PRICES CUT BY UP TO .30c/kg

15 AUGUST 2019

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said price cuts this week of up to .30c/kg for lamb are a disgrace. “Processors are once again sticking the boot in. Beef prices have fallen through the floor and now they’re doing the same with lambs. Base quotes are running at around €4.50/kg which is totally unacceptable. How can they expect farmers to stay going? If this continues farmers just won’t be putting their ewes in lamb,” he said.

“Adding to the problem, we still have big quantities of lambs coming down from the north. While we accept that a certain amount of imported lamb is required to meet export demands, the numbers coming in now are only serving to undercut the prices paid to Irish farmers. It’s a cynical tactic and a shameful way to treat a sector that operates on such slim margins.”

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ICSA SAYS SOME PROGRESS AT BEEF TALKS BUT CRISIS IN BEEF SECTOR CONTINUES 

13 AUGUST 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said that the beef crisis talks between the farm organisations and the meat industry have yielded some progress but further work will be necessary to make worthwhile change. However, he cautioned that the crisis in the beef sector continues and the threat of a Brexit disaster looms big for primary producers.

“In terms of specifics, we have agreement for a full review of the beef pricing grid and related issues such as the thirty month specification and the bonus payments to quality assured farmers. These are very contentious points for farmers and we expect that Bord Bia analysis on market requirements will inform the process. There is a commitment to more transparency in the food chain, specifically to determine who gets what margin. ICSA strongly contends that the farmer gets an unfair and inadequate share of the final retail price.”

“There was also full agreement that Ireland must press for substantial further support for beef producers arising from ongoing and unprecedented losses from Brexit and the potential for things to get worse before they get better in the event of no-deal on October 31. It was also agreed that Ireland should be pressing the EU to invoke the WTO safeguard clause which would halt beef imports from outside the EU on the basis that there was a threat of serious injury to the industry due to market turmoil.”

“It was also agreed that Bord Bia would drive on with efforts to begin a suckler beef promotion campaign with a view to demonstrating the potential to develop a suckler beef market proposition designed to get higher prices for speciality suckler beef.”

Mr Phelan warned that the above issues would require further negotiation and that the main issue of poor prices is continuing to pose a serious threat to the viability of the whole beef sector in Ireland. “Beef price is well below the cost of production and farmers cannot endure losing money hand over fist. Clearly there are a variety of issues at play in terms of supply and demand in depressed and unstable markets. Both processors and retailers need to reflect on the fact that there is only so much losses that can be sustained before the whole house of cards comes falling down.” 

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ICSA SLAMS CCPC THREATS AND CALLS FOR OIREACHTAS INVESTIGATION INTO ITS ACTIONS 

11 AUGUST 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has slammed the CCPC (Competition and Consumer Protection Commission) for threatening legal action against the Beef Plan Movement in advance of talks to resolve the beef dispute on Monday. “The CCPC has some brass neck to go terrorising a group of farmers after giving the green light to the ABP group to further consolidate their dominant position by taking over the Slaney Group in 2016. At that time, the effect was to consolidate 26% of the total cattle kill under one single ownership,” he said.

“It is time for an Oireachtas investigation into the CCPC to enquire why they are threatening powerless farmers whose position – year after year – has continuously worsened to its current desperate state. Meanwhile the beef processing sector, dominated by three big players who are also in a dominant position in the UK are let manipulate prices to their hearts’ content. 

The CCPC was like a lamb in dealing with processors, but is acting like a wolf with a group of farmers who are on their knees. A couple of thousand cattle farmers have stood outside the gates of meat factories over the past two weeks, out of a total of over 100,000. How can this be seen as cartel like behaviour? 

The dogs in the street know where to look to find the cartel in the beef chain and it’s not among the 100,000 helpless primary producers who are being forced out of business. In fact, if the CCPC wants to cite basic competition economics, they should be easily able to determine that there is perfect competition among farmers in economic terms which means that they have no influence on price. 

Their suggestion that protesting farmers could have ‘a serious effect on Irish consumers’ is farcical in the extreme. On the contrary, farmers are saying that the food chain is rigged to manipulate profits for processors and retailers while farmers go bankrupt.

Moreover, to make such an audacious claim, the CCPC must be wilfully ignoring the purpose of EU regulation 1308/2013 which actively encourages the setting up of beef producer groups to jointly sell beef, provided that each individual group does not account for more than 15% of the total national production. A few thousand farmers protesting for two weeks outside meat plants is a long way from controlling 15% of national production. 

The CCPC would have some job to prove that the average suckler farmer who makes €8,000 per annum is the problem for consumers rather than processors who have built empires worth billions or retailers such as TESCO who have recorded a 34% increase in profits (£2.21 billion) in the year to February 2019. 

It is even more laughable that the CCPC should cite the Beef Plan Movement which is only in existence a few months and which does not have a monopoly on beef farmer representation. In fact, there are five recognised farm representative associations who have cattle farming members in addition to the loose alliance of farmers who have protested under the Beef Plan banner in recent days. It is clear that no farm organisation has anywhere near a monopoly position in telling farmers what to do.”

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ALL PARTIES MUST SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE BEEF VIABLE 

9 AUGUST 2019 

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the time for talking has arrived and that all parties should now focus their attention on delivering a long overdue overhaul of the beef sector in this country. “ICSA welcomes the intervention of Minister Creed and the commitment from MII that legal proceedings will be suspended and we expect in return that protesting farmers will allow space for talks to begin immediately,” he said.

“The last two weeks of protests have demonstrated clearly that the Irish beef sector must be reconfigured. Excessive profiteering at the expense of primary producers has been exposed and while we understand market difficulties, all parties must now seize this opportunity and work earnestly to make the beef sector a sector that is viable for everyone involved. If we value this industry, then the time to protect it and to develop it in a way that is sustainable for all is now,” he said.

Mr Phelan said ICSA is committed to playing its part in delivering a better future for the beef sector.

Minister Creed announced tonight that negotiations between all parties will commence on Monday 12 August. It has also been decided that an independent chairperson will preside over an agreed agenda.

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FOCUS ON WHAT YOU WASTE NOT WHAT YOU EAT – ICSA

8 AUGUST 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said reducing food waste should be the primary focus when it comes to mitigating the effects of climate change due to the production of food. “One third of food produced is wasted; it stands to reason that the focus must be on what you waste, not on what you eat. Blaming sustainably produced beef and lamb for the potential demise of the planet is wrong,” he said.

“Even the IPCC admits that natural land processes which reflect current agricultural systems absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry. So, it is dangerous nonsense to advocate massive disruption of current livestock systems. In addition, there is a lot of potential to better utilise current systems of agriculture in the production of biomethane and crop-based biofuels without imposing extreme vegan solutions.”

Mr Phelan was responding following the publication of the UN IPCC’s Climate Change and Land report today (Thurs 8 August).

“In addition, the spotlight needs to be shone on irresponsible deforestation, as opposed to responsible land use. The rate of deforestation in the Amazon region is accelerating exponentially and is irresponsible in the extreme. Unstopped, this will cause far more long-term damage than any amount of responsibly produced grass-fed beef and lamb.”

“It is also important to remember that people must be fed, and populations are growing. To this end, efforts should be put into helping farmers not multi-nationals who are investing billions in highly processed foods, which are far more damaging from a climate perspective.”

Mr Phelan also took aim at alternative plant-based food companies who are investing billions in ultra-processed plant-based foods. “They are hijacking the climate change debate by bad mouthing sustainable grass based red meats in order to make more profit from plant and lab produced products.”

“All of this misguided focus on unworkable and unprecedented dietary change is letting fossil fuel and aviation sectors off the hook. When you have 225,000 airplanes in the sky on one day, it is a complete parody to target healthy livestock products,” he said.

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ICSA STANDS READY TO FIND A RESOLUTION TO CURRENT BEEF CRISIS

7 AUGUST 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said it is entirely understandable why farmers are protesting outside meat factories, as confidence in the sector is at an all-time low. “ICSA members are protesting alongside their fellow farmers as current beef prices are very far below the cost of production. There is a lot of talk about factories being able to pay €4/kg. In reality however, even €4/kg comes nowhere near giving the farmer a margin.”

“We need a resolution to this in the next few days. ICSA is prepared to help in any way to find a resolution and we stand ready to work in a united way. However, ICSA is not seeking credit for this protest and it is a matter for the organisers in Beef Plan to suggest how we can help.”

“In the longer run, ICSA is committed to lobby for a more sustainable future for the sector at national and EU level. We have built alliances with farm organisations right across Europe to oppose substandard imports from outside the EU.”

“We also need a comprehensive plan to stand up for red meat in the face of climate change being hijacked by vegan propaganda. We need a strategy to get the market back into balance which should be focused on increasing consumption. We need a strategy to push back against the vested interests in the plant-based industry who are pumping billions into ultra-processed food.”

“We need to recognise that scarcity is also an important element in getting back control over our future. Live exports must be prioritised. We also need to look at how we deal with too many calves as a result of dairy expansion. We need a policy to set a floor of €200 per cow profitability for sucklers. The logical way to do that is offer an alternative of €200 per cow per year to those who volunteer to reduce production for five years.”

Mr Phelan announced ICSA will be ramping up its campaign to deliver EU wide compulsory auditing to determine who makes what from the food chain and to expose excess profiteering, whether it happens at processor or retailer level.

“We cannot ignore any longer the reality that powerful multinational retailers have a lot of responsibility, along with processors, for destroying the viability of our sector.”

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ICSA PROPOSES REDIRECTION SCHEME TO REDUCE CATTLE OUTPUT

31 JULY 2019

ICSA suckler chair John Halley has said if there is to be any further talk of reducing suckler numbers it must be done in the context of properly framed policies. Reacting to the recent report from the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) which advocates a cut in suckler numbers of up to 53% Mr Halley said, “If they or the government want people to get out of suckler farming there must be policies and strategies in place to facilitate that, something we don’t have at present.”

ICSA has proposed a €200/head payment per suckler cow, per year for a period of five years as an incentive package to reduce suckler numbers. Mr Halley said “This Suckler Redirection Scheme must now be given serious consideration. At present we have an oversupply of beef in Europe which has not been caused by the suckler herd. Rather, this is down to the dramatic increase in the dairy herd and it has compounded the complete lack of profitability in the suckler sector. When you add to this the pressures of climate change mitigation, there is the possibility that alternative income sources could have an appeal. However, the need for a holistic approach to viable alternatives is apparent.”

ICSA proposes this Suckler Redirection Scheme should be available on an EU wide basis at a rate of €200 per cow, per annum, for up to five years, on a strictly voluntary basis. The scheme would be based on a reference year of 2018 and the payment would be linked to the reduction in calves registered compared to 2018.

Mr Halley stressed the importance of the voluntary nature of any such scheme. “Under no circumstances will suckler farmers be used as scapegoats to balance the books of uncontrolled dairy expansion. This strategy would also expose the hypocrisy of Food Wise 2025 expansion targets by sending out a clear signal that anything less than €200 per cow net profit is unacceptable and unsustainable. It would expose the deadly consensus that farmers should be satisfied with just breaking even.”

“It is abundantly clear that the only way to deliver farm viability is scarcity. Farm organisations must take a responsible attitude on basic economic principles that will address the profitability question above all other considerations. This will also involves pushing for innovative policies around generating an income from alternative sources. The renewable energy sector does offer promise but we are nowhere near the stage of this being a realistic option for most.”

“A rounded approach would also have to include retraining for those wishing to take part in the scheme. It should also include the option to switch to organic systems for others and significantly it should involve an acceptance that covering vast tracts of land in and around rural communities with forestry is not the optimal approach.”

There is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution to this issue and careless and sweeping statements when speaking about wiping out farmers and their livelihoods is most counterproductive. It must also be noted that funding would need to come from additional sources outside of CAP. If CAP funds are redirected it means that farmers are paying for climate change.”

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FARMERS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO DISPOSE OF FALLEN EWES ON-FARM AMID SOARING KNACKERY CHARGES

31 JULY 2019

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has said sheep farmers must be allowed to bury the carcasses of dead ewes on-farm rather than pay exorbitant fees to knackeries. “Charging up to €40 for the removal of dead ewes is a disgrace and it must be challenged. The industry has reached breaking point and ripping-off sheep farmers at a time when margins are so tight and incomes are at rock bottom is wrong. Handing over €40 for this service is totally unwarranted.” he said.

Continuing Mr McNamara said, “There is no reason why sheep farmers themselves cannot dispose of fallen ewes efficiently and safely on their own farms. This is a responsible approach and one that is ultimately more environmentally friendly than any alternative. Indeed, knackery vans going from farm to farm collecting dead animals have the potential to spread disease and cause further problems. A simple and workable solution is to allow farmers to bury ewes on-farm in a safe and sanitary way.”

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€100 MILLION FUND MUST BE DISTRIBUTED AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE

29 JULY 2019

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has welcomed clarification on the division of the €100m fund in Beef Exceptional Aid Measures, saying that the objective now must be to get the money to farmers promptly. “The money must be distributed as quickly as possible. We are disappointed that EU funding rules say it can’t be paid until 16 October, but we see this as the latest acceptable date for funds to arrive in farmers’ accounts. The beef trade is deteriorating every week and this fund is only a drop in the ocean compared to the losses being sustained by farmers.”

Mr Phelan said he was disappointed that the upper limit for finishers has remained at 100 head of cattle. “Losses for those who sold above that number during the timeframe will be significant. If however the scheme is under subscribed, ICSA will be pushing to see that the maximum payment is increased accordingly.”

Mr Phelan also noted that certain terms and conditions attached to the scheme remain problematic, most notably, the requirement to reduce by 5% the production of bovine livestock manure nitrogen per herd. “Progress with this will have to be monitored closely to ensure that compliance with this measure is achieved and we have to seek some flexibility with this. ICSA is adamant that no farmer loses out as a result of this bureaucratic requirement. ICSA will be insisting that the Department outlines its plans to ensure that farmers are given assistance on an ongoing basis over the period July 2020-June 2021 to help them comply with this requirement.”

“Now though, the priority is to ensure that all those who are eligible to apply for the scheme do so.”

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