EU MUST DELIVER TRANSPARENCY IN FOOD CHAIN

16 OCTOBER 2017

ICSA president Patrick Kent says that the food chain needs to be much more transparent if farmers are to have any chance of making a viable return in most farm enterprises. “The EU must tackle the inherent lack of balance in the food chain. Farmers spend three years producing beef cattle, processors spend three week getting it to the shelf and it takes the retailers three days to sell it, yet farmers are the only ones not making a profit.”

“What is needed is compulsory audits of the food chain at EU level to see what margins are being made at processor and retailer level on key farm commodities such as meat, bread and dairy. We have very clear transparency around average farm margins but have very little information on what margins are being made by processors and retailers.”

“It is not good enough that companies who have such a central role in determining what consumers eat and how much they pay can hide behind opaque structures and keep their accounts out of public scrutiny. Most companies are required to publish accounts but processors are avoiding this by private company structures. On the other hand, multinational giants in the retailing sector, by virtue of the huge turnover in millions of products, can hide how much they make off the backs of farmers.”

“This has to change. We have seen farmers squeezed more and more over the years and this has coincided with increasing concentration of processing and retailing in the hands of a few, dominant operators.”

“The EU Commission needs to take the lead by regulating this. ICSA was the first farm organisation to call for regulation and we want to see an EU authority being given the powers to audit the big players in processing and retailing with a view to publishing average margins across the sectors and with a view to calling to account businesses that engage in excess profiteering at the expense of both farmer and consumer.”

ENDS

PROCESSORS KEEPING SHEEP PRICES DOWN WITH UNDERHANDED METHODS

13 OCTOBER 2017

ICSA sheep chairman John Brooks has said that processors are ramping up their efforts to keep sheep prices down. “Meat plants are creating the impression of a backlog and an oversupply in the marketplace by using imported lamb and lamb products from Northern Ireland and the UK. The result of this on the ground is farmers here are having to wait three to four days to get lambs slaughtered and with some companies this wait can be up to a week.”

Continuing Mr Brooks said, “This practice puts at risk the whole idea of traceability, origin green and quality assurance. It also shows a complete lack of respect for both the producer and the consumer.”

“Processors are also capping weights while also making efforts to procure heavier lambs from their agents in a cynical attempt to acquire as much ‘free meat’ as possible, all at the expense of the producer. ”

ENDS

SNEAKY TERMS AND CONDITIONS IN DEPARTMENT MOVE ON SLURRY FLEXIBILITY

10 OCTOBER 2017

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has said he is outraged that farmers wishing to apply for an exemption to spread slurry after the October 15 deadline will face the increased threat of inspections. “This is the definition of sneaky terms and conditions. Farmers desperate to avail of flexibility this year will unfairly become a priority category for inspections not only this year but in future years also, according to a statement from the Department of Agriculture.”

“The land is saturated and farmers’ hands are tied. Flexibility should be about giving farmers the time to safely do what needs to be done. Calendar farming is always difficult with unpredictable weather conditions and when conditions make slurry spreading impossible farmers are left in an impossible situation.”

“With the prospect of increased inspections and possible penalties department officials are in effect ratcheting up the pressure on farmers. The result is that farmers may opt to spread slurry in conditions that are far from ideal. Panic spreading of slurry in the coming days in wet conditions is not in anyone’s interest. The risk of farm accidents is also increased by unworkable deadlines.”

ENDS

ANC SCHEME INCREASE WELCOME BUT TAXATION CHANGES ARE DISAPPOINTING FOR FARMERS

10 OCTOBER 2017

ICSA president Patrick Kent has welcomed the increased funding of €25m for the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC) scheme in Budget 2018 describing it as “An important first step towards the full reinstatement of the scheme’s €257m allocation prior to austerity cuts which have severely impacted farmers on the lowest incomes.”

However, Mr Kent was scathing in his response to the minimal increase to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the derisory reduction in the Universal Social Charge (USC). “It is unacceptable that the commitment given to the self-employed to bring equality in tax treatment has gone by the wayside. This was supposed to happen over a three year period yet an increase of just €200 for 2018 still leaves a lot of ground to be made up. This minimal increase will leave farmers and other self-employed liable for an extra €500 income tax compared to employees where income exceeds €16,500.”

On USC Mr Kent said “Despite there being the scope for material reductions in USC, Minister Donohoe has chosen to inflict the most derisory reductions to the charge on hard working people. The quarter per cent reduction will deliver a lot less to people who get up early in the morning than has been allocated to the dole.  It is important to note that USC is a very unfair tax on farmers who invest on their farms as the capital allowances available against income tax do not apply on USC.”

Mr Kent welcomed the announcement that land under solar panels would be classified as agricultural for the purposes of Capital Acquisitions Tax relief and Capital Gains Tax (CGT) retirement relief, subject to certain limitations.  However, he lamented the fact that there was no increase in the thresholds for CAT liability, which remains at €310,000 for category A, €32,500 for category B and €16,250 for category C.

Mr Kent described the increase in stamp duty on non-residential assets from 2% to 6% as completely over the top and said this would have a big impact on people trying to consolidate farm holdings.

ENDS

MERCOSUR – TAOISEACH NEEDS TO UNDERSTAND THAT ANY BEEF QUOTA FOR BRAZIL IS UNACCEPTABLE

9 OCTOBER 2017

ICSA president Patrick Kent has accused the Taoiseach of not hearing the concerns of the Irish beef sector if he believes that the Mercosur talks are about ensuring higher standards in Brazilian beef imports. “Mr Varadkar needs to understand very quickly that the issue is the flooding of the EU market with 70,000 extra tons of beef at a time when our exports of 270,000 tons to the UK are under threat from Brexit. The Brexit threat means that any EU beef quota for Brazil is unacceptable especially as the UK could end up with a separate import deal from South America.”

Mr Kent was reacting to recent comments made by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he would insist on the ‘highest standards’ of animal welfare, health and safety should a deal on beef be struck with the Mercosur trading bloc.

“Ensuring standards are met on beef imports from South America does not address the heart of the issue and goes no way towards addressing whether it should ever be allowed into the EU in the first place. The truth is that we will hear a lot of wishful thinking about forcing Brazilian beef imports to meet EU standards but the evidence from the meat adulteration scandal in Brazil earlier this year proves that they can’t be trusted. Worse, it shows that the EU’s monitoring is ineffective in the face of blatant fraud and bribery in South America.”

“This has been borne out in a report published this week by EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) on the recent Brazilian meat scandal. The report clearly states that they could not guarantee meat products coming into the EU from South America adhere to EU standards.”

“ICSA has been highlighting the fact that large quantities of beef imports has the potential to decimate the beef industry here. This, together with the fact that EU officials could not stand over the safety of what is being presented to consumers makes the decision to include beef quotas in the deal illogical. The mooted proposal of a 70,000 beef quota should finally be taken off the table.”

“The Taoiseach needs to be careful not to undermine his own credibility with statements which suggest he believes that there are circumstances in which more Brazilian beef exports would be acceptable. The only position which Ireland can take is full opposition to beef quotas in the Mercosur deal and this should be underlined at the EU summit as a key issue particularly in the context of market disruption due to Brexit.”

ENDS

ICSA ANGERED AT SELL OUT OF BEEF FARMERS ON MERCOSUR

3 OCTOBER 2017

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said he is outraged that the European Commission has decided to propose a 70,000 ton beef quota as part of the Mercosur trade deal. “This amounts to a complete sell out of beef farmers across Europe with the likelihood that Irish farmers will feel the brunt. It defies logic to agree to a quota that will have such a detrimental effect on a native industry that is already under severe pressure. ”

“The Mercosur countries have failed to meet EU standards on the fundamental issues of food safety and traceability. EU beef farmers have endeavoured over many years to ensure the very highest standards are met at every stage of production. Agreeing to allow more and more inferior quality beef into Europe simply cannot be justified.”

In addition Mr Kent said “Coupled with what we know of inferior South American production practices, poor animal welfare regulations and disregard for environmental considerations makes it even more galling that the Commission should agree to this concession.”

ENDS

RELIEF FOR FARM FAMILIES AS CAP ON FARM CONTRIBUTIONS PROPOSED FOR FAIR DEAL SCHEME

28 SEPTEMBER 2017

ICSA president Patrick Kent has welcomed comments by Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Jim Daly TD indicating that a cap of three years contributions will apply to family farms in the Fair Deal scheme. “Minister Daly has assured me this cap will apply to productive farm assets and that farmers won’t be disproportionately discriminated against any longer,” said Mr Kent.

Commenting on the latest developments ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock said, “ICSA has always believed that a three year cap was the most equitable solution for farming families and small businesses. As the scheme currently stands, perfectly viable farms and business could be rendered unviable because of the inherent unfairness built into the scheme. This has resulted in a deep seated fear of the scheme in rural Ireland with many believing that opting into the Fair Deal scheme could eventually lead to the sale of their farm to pay for nursing home fees.”

Continuing Mr Sherlock said, “I commend Minister Daly for his action on this issue and await immediate approval from both the Attorney General and the Cabinet so that family farms and businesses can be preserved for the next generation.”

ENDS

ICSA CALLS FOR INCREASED ANC PAYMENTS IN MEETING WITH MINISTER CREED

27 SEPTEMBER 2017

ICSA has called for an immediate increase in ANC payments at a meeting with Minister Michael Creed in Dublin today. Following the meeting ICSA president Patrick Kent said: “The restoration of ANC payments must be a priority in the short term and in the longer term we need to demand full funding of the CAP post Brexit.”

ICSA has also demanded an extension to the slurry spreading deadline. “With the weather set to remain difficult for the coming days there is a real crisis emerging on many farms that still have slurry to get out. The closing date of 15 October is completely unworkable. At this stage, the last thing we want to see is panic spreading of slurry in the coming days in wet conditions.”

Regarding Brexit ICSA is calling for a fully funded CAP whatever the outcome of Brexit talks. ICSA wants to see trade issues being discussed as soon as possible .”We see positives in the statement from the UK Prime Minister with her reference to a two year transition period. We need to keep tariff free access to UK markets as a key objective and the longer we can maintain normality the better.”

ICSA also insisted that Ireland must take a very strong stand against any concessions on beef in the Mercosur trade talks. “It is inconceivable that any beef would be allowed in under a tariff rate quota at a time when our markets are in a state of complete flux due to Brexit uncertainty. We also made a very strong case that it would be intolerable to allow more Brazilian beef in after the scandal of adulterated meat from Brazil earlier this year. The CETA agreement has already done a lot of damage to the beef sector.”

ICSA has also called for reopening of the organics scheme. “We need to do much better in developing high value export markets for beef and lamb. However, we need more critical mass in terms of farmers who are certified organic but the current closure of the organics scheme is a real setback for the sector.”

 ICSA also emphasised to the Minister the importance of payment on time this year on all schemes.

The ICSA delegation consisted of ICSA president Patrick Kent, general secretary Eddie Punch, beef chair Edmond Phelan, sheep chair John Brooks and rural development chair Seamus Sherlock.

ENDS

LAND TAX CALLS – POPULIST NONSENSE WOULD BE MORE AT HOME IN ZIMBABWE

25 SEPTEMBER 2017

ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock has hit back at calls by David McWilliams to tax land to the hilt. “This is the sort of populist nonsense that would be more at home in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and we all know how that has panned out.”

Mr Sherlock said extraordinary comments by Mr McWilliams which describes land as a “useless asset which generates no innovation, no creativity, no enhanced productivity” ignored the fact that outside of the cities, land in Europe is used not only to feed the population but is also the basis for attracting tourists, is a store for carbon and is increasingly used as a source of renewable energy.

“During the crash when this country was at risk of going under, farmers kept their shoulders to the wheel and used the land to increase our agri-food exports year after year to some €11.15 billion in 2016. This would not have been possible if we had taxed land to the hilt or dismissed it as useless. Unlike other sectors, the value of agri-food exports has minimal import content and has a trickle down benefit to all rural communities rather than being repatriated internationally.”

“Far from analysis, Mr McWilliams’ article (Irish Independent, 23 September) is redolent of the kind of thinking based on begrudgery that inspired Robert Mugabe’s thugs to take over farmland in Zimbabwe which has resulted in the large scale displacement of some of Africa’s most successful farmers. The outcome has been catastrophic and the bread basket of Southern Africa has become the basket case.”

“While there may well be a case to incentivise the development of inner city sites in Dublin for housing, this is no excuse to impose another burden on hard working farmers in rural Ireland who are already under severe income pressure. Far from being privileged, farmers who own land have seen their labours increasingly undermined by greedy retailers and processors who take more and more margin from the food chain. A far better focus would be to take a fair share of tax from such operations who are clearly making billions off the back of farmers,” concluded Mr Sherlock.

ENDS

ICSA SEES POSITIVES IN THERESA MAY’S BREXIT SPEECH IN FLORENCE

25 SEPTEMBER 2017

ICSA president Patrick Kent has said that the Florence speech on Brexit by UK Prime Minister Theresa May is a hopeful sign that pragmatism is starting to get the upper hand. “We now have an acceptance on the UK side that a transition period of about two years, during which the UK would stay in the single market, is the preferred option.  This is a much more pragmatic position than the extreme euro sceptic position of some within the Tory party who wanted little or no transition and it suggests that the chances of a softer Brexit have increased.”

Mr Kent also welcomed the acceptance that the UK will have to make some financial contribution to the EU for a period. “This offer will be well short of what the EU wants but it gets us beyond the logjam of whether the UK was liable for anything into a negotiation over how much.”

“It has always been clear that a transition period would be an essential element of moving towards a trading relationship where tariffs would not apply to exports between Europe and the UK.  Although there is still a lot of complexity and uncertainty around trade deals, the speech gives hope that there is much less likelihood of Irish exports to the UK being undermined between now and 2021.  Moreover, Ms May has been careful not to be too precise about the transition period and it is essential that flexibility to extend it further is kept in play.”

Mr Kent added that the re-election of a government in Germany led by Angela Merkel was also a positive outcome. “Chancellor Merkel seems much more pragmatic than her opponent Martin Schulz of the SPD who leans more towards the strand of opinion which prioritises making the UK suffer for leaving the EU.”

“The speech by Ms May should be seen as an opportunity by the EU to make progress on Brexit talks. In particular, it should be seen as a sign of progress by EU heads of state at the EU summit meeting in October.  The time for grand-standing is now past,” concluded Mr Kent.

ENDS