24 JANUARY 2020

ICSA Animal Health and Welfare chair Hugh Farrell has said the European Commission needs to forget about targeting clear herds for 30-day pre-movement TB tests. “The reality is targeting clear herds it would be of little or no benefit, while those with infected herds are tested up to three time annually as it is. The move has now been delayed, thanks to the intervention of several Irish MEPs, but it needs to be removed from the discussion entirely,” he said.

“When the EU Animal Health Act does eventually come into force, ICSA is resolute that no mandatory pre-movement testing of clear herds can be included in any form. We know that almost 97% of Irish herds are designated clear for TB, so imposing this test on farmers would be a phenomenal waste of time and money.”

“ICSA will expect the Department of Agriculture to keep the pressure on at EU level over the coming months. We also expect our Irish MEPs not to drop the ball on this one as the impact of this would be disastrous. Through the work of the TB Forum, we know exactly where resources need to be focused and this certainly isn’t one of them.”



24 JANUARY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the mandatory recording of the breed of dam on bovine passports will be of huge benefit to beef farmers. “This is something that ICSA has lobbied hard for as information relating to the dam is vital for those wishing to breed beef cattle with superior conformation and growth rates.”

“ICSA wants to see this information up on mart boards as soon as possible. However, we see this as a first step towards more precise information about dams and sires. This is particularly important so that farmers buying calves, weanlings or stores know exactly what they are getting.”

“For instance, it should be possible to know the percentage of Jersey genetics in any animal offered for sale. This would help ensure that farmers who put most effort into breeding animals with suitable attributes for beef get the rewards. Meanwhile, stock that are bred with no regard for beef traits should be priced accordingly.”



17 JANUARY 2020

Acting suckler chair of ICSA Tom Stephenson has reminded farmers to be extra vigilant when handling cattle following a serious incident on a farm in Westmeath earlier this week. ICSA treasurer Dan Lynam was on a neighbouring farm, helping with a herd test, when his neighbour was attacked and mauled by a suckler cow who had recently calved.

Speaking following the incident Mr Lynam said, “We are all in shock. My good friend and neighbour has suffered significant injuries. He has since been transferred to the care of St James’ where his recovery is on-going, but it will be a long process.”

Recounting the incident Mr Lynam said, “The cow in question had calved only two days prior and there is no doubt this was a factor in what happened. It was also a particularly windy afternoon which also may have been a factor. Unfortunately, the testing had to be done and despite taking precautions, the unthinkable happened.”

Mr Stephenson added, “Fortunately, the man in question had his good neighbour Dan and the vet present, who together were able to fence off the cow and administer first aid until the ambulance arrived. The decision has now been made to cull the cow and the Department of Agriculture have offered any assistance that may be required. it will take some time for this man to get back on his feet again. Hopefully, he has lots of good neighbours, like Dan, to help him out in the spring.”

“Calving season is now upon us and this type of situation will happen again, but farmers will have to be more safety-conscious. For myself, the most important safety precaution is to work out an escape route in advance of handling cattle. Ideally, build a frame that you can escape behind in your calving sheds, preferably made of steel. Also, leave the dog at home and for outdoor calving – bring your tractor, never walk. Never bring your quad as it doesn’t offer enough protection and always remember If a cow shows any sign of wickedness, they should not be left on the farm.”

A complete guide of the safe handling of cattle on farms can be found on the HSA website using the following below.



16 JANUARY 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has disagreed with the initial report from Teagasc which suggests there is no need for any significant amendment to the beef grid based on their initial desk top analysis. “ICSA is convinced that the grid is not reflecting the extra added value of suckler type, higher grade animals because our trial of meat yield suggests a much higher return from R+ heifers compared to O= heifers.”

“Accordingly, ICSA will be insisting on a comprehensive field trial to determine what the extra added value of suckler beef is. The ICSA trial showed that the meat yield from an R+ heifer is of the order of 60% of the carcass weight compared to 52% from the dairy type O grade heifer. This extra yield and the better composition including more high value cuts suggests that the suckler type heifer yields some €500 more retail value than the dairy cross heifer.

“That’s a lot of added value which is not reflected in grid pricing. Moreover, dairy expansion means there are a lot more cattle in the lower grades – which are already heavily discounted on the grid – which means factories are saving a lot of money that simply wasn’t the case when the grid was introduced. This, combined with severe cuts on very heavy carcasses, suggests that factories are making a killing by not returning a fair share of the added value on R+ and U grade cattle which meet other market requirements.”

ICSA has taken a lead on this issue at the Beef Taskforce and we want the support of other farm organisations to ensure that Teagasc do the necessary research in a manner which will reassure farmers. At present, most farmers see the grid as a one-way process to screw the farmer. The appalling thing is that if suckler cattle got even half the extra value from higher meat yield, it would be better than any possible subsidy and would go a long way to saving suckler farming in Ireland.”

“ICSA will be pursuing this issue doggedly until we can see a fair return for suckler beef. It is also ICSA’s policy that PGI status should be pursued specifically for suckler beef and that no stone should be left unturned to develop a suckler beef brand. ICSA is also working on this issue with our partners in Farm Europe who want segmentation of the market whereby suckler beef is developed as a special high value product. Selling beef to China as a low price commodity is not going to solve the crisis facing the suckler herd,” concluded Mr Graham.



15 JANUARY 2020

ICSA sheep chair Sean McNamara has called on all political parties to commit to a new a significantly improved Sheep Welfare Scheme that would see a doubling of the financial benefit of the scheme to sheep farmers. “2019 was a very tough year for sheep farmers and our losses were not compensated in any way. The Sheep Welfare Scheme at least provides some support, but we need to see a commitment from all political parties that would ensure the scheme continues into 2021 and beyond, and that would see the allocated budget doubled. The sheep sector cannot be a political afterthought,” he said.

Mr McNamara made his comments following opening today of the fourth and final year of the Sheep Welfare Scheme in its current format.

Continuing Mr McNamara said, “The scheme has worked well so the basis is there for a new and improved version, and for it to deliver significantly higher payments. ICSA believes that higher rates of payment can be facilitated through bolt-on mechanisms to the scheme, which would see sheep farmers rewarded for undertaking additional tasks. What we need to see now is a genuine political commitment to ensure the viability of the sector.”



14 JANUARY 2020

ICSA beef chair Edmond Graham has called on all beef farmers to insist on a minimum base price of €3.70 for steers and €3.75 for heifers immediately. “We have to begin the push to get beef price back above €4/kg. If we can’t do this in 2020, we will never do it, given tightening supplies, improving markets in the UK and Europe and the demand for animal protein in China arising from swine fever.”

“While the meat industry is making a lot out of the temporary downward blip in the Chinese market, this does not justify prices being almost as low as last autumn when multiple factors including weather and the unjust 30 month cut off were all against farmers.”

“Farmers need to be aware that prices will inevitably rise, and it is no good giving away beef now only to regret it later. No farmer should accept the first offer from a factory at the moment. The price differential with the UK is now running at around 50c/kg for steer beef and this cannot be justified.”

“We have a long way to go if we are to see any sort of parity with UK prices. Average quotes this week of €3.65 for steers and €3.70 for heifers just don’t cut the mustard.”

Mr Graham advised farmers to watch out for often misleading information regarding factory demand for cattle supplies. “Stories about factories being booked out until the end of February are mostly just that, stories. It’s a form of mind game so farmers will take what they’re given. The advice is not to give into that; supplies are tight so sell hard.”




14 JANUARY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has slammed Channel 4 for scheduling a programme for airing tonight (Tues) which condones criminal activity. “The programme ‘How to Steal Pigs’ incites animal extremists to invade farms and steal pigs apparently on the basis that this would be good for the pigs’ welfare. ICSA hopes that Channel 4 does not go ahead with this scandalous programme because inciting criminal activity would represent a new low for previously respected media.”

“This is grossly irresponsible and can be seen as an incitement to hatred of pig farmers. It beggars belief that any responsible media outlet would condone let alone glamourise blatant criminal activity. It is also grossly irresponsible in animal welfare terms because the biosecurity breach of invading a pig farm could potentially endanger the health of all pigs on the farm and potentially cause a disastrous disease outbreak. It is also unclear as to how the stolen pigs would be looked after. There is little doubt that portraying stealing pigs as consequence free is just plain wrong.

This follows on the back of last week’s offering from Channel 4 which gave a platform to George Monbiot to take delight in his dystopian vision straight out of a sci-fi horror movie where all food production is concentrated in the hands of a few multinational corporations, who control all human nutrition from laboratories made from ingredients that could have multiple unforeseen consequences for health.

This is before we even mention the obvious insanity of trusting global food security to a cartel of food oligarchs where the potential for anti-trust behaviour is obvious. Nor was there any balanced consideration of how this insane vision would devastate every rural community in the world and would almost certainly create famine in the very regions of the world where small scale livestock ownership is central to people’s survival.

It is one thing for a TV channel to have debate but it is entirely another for the channel to abuse its influential position to denigrate hard working farm families in a completely biased and dangerous fashion. ICSA is calling on Mitsubishi as major sponsor of Channel 4 to withdraw all funding unless this programme is pulled from air.”



9 JANUARY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said the major retailers attending the Beef Taskforce today gave no coherent indication that the 30-month rule is as important a requirement in the Irish market as processors would have us believe. “While all the retailers agree that Quality Assurance was of paramount importance, retailers are not as rigid on the issue of 30-months as we had been led to believe. There were also varying and diverging views on other in-spec requirements including the four residency rule and the 60 day residency requirement on the last farm,” he said.

“This tallies with the results of a poll commissioned by ICSA and conducted through RED C which found that just over 12p% of respondents – or less than one in eight – indicated a preference for beef from animals of under-30 months of age, while country of origin and quality assurance was a consideration for 89% and over 90% of respondents respectively.”

On price, Mr Phelan said a strong case was made to the retailers that current prices paid to beef producers fall way short of what is required. “It has been made crystal clear that beef farmers cannot continue to produce at below the cost of production. To this end, we are pleased that the retailers have agreed to co-operate further with the price composition study.”

There was a strong exchange of views on the Chinese market. Mr Phelan said, “The outlook for 2020 means that China must deliver a better price for beef. ICSA are clear that given the current increased demand, unless the Chinese market can deliver results in 2020, it’s doubtful it ever could.”

The Department outlined a study on the implications of upgrading the current mechanical grading machines. However, the farm organisations are seeking further clarification on the results of the study before any decisions are taken to upgrade machines.

Teagasc outlined results of its desktop study on the beef price grid. However, ICSA expressed dissatisfaction with this, and outlined how the ICSA meat yield study suggested that better grade suckler type animals were yielding a lot of added value through higher meat yield and more high value cuts. Following this, it was agreed that Teagasc would report back on doing a much more comprehensive piece of research on the value of the various grades and whether the beef grid was giving a fair return to suckler beef.



8 JANUARY 2020

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has said processors and retailers must face up to the havoc being wreaked in the Irish beef sector as a result of farmers being forced to produce at below the cost of production. “For too long processors and retailers have washed their hands of this issue and it’s pushing beef farmers to the brink of bankruptcy. Processors who expect to buy cattle at below the cost of production and supermarkets who sell Irish beef at current farm-gate prices are not supporting farmers, they are exploiting them, and this exploitation must stop,” he said.

Mr Phelan made his comments ahead of the second meeting of the Beef Markets Taskforce, scheduled to take place in Dublin tomorrow (Thurs 9 Jan). For the first time, representatives from all the major retailers will be in attendance as well as the meat industry.

Continuing Mr Phelan said, “Through the Beef Markets Taskforce we have an opportunity to put the industry on a more viable footing and for new and more sustainable relationships to be forged between all stakeholders. However, for this to become a reality we must see real engagement from processors and retailers, and they must deliver on more transparency and fairness.”

In advance of the Taskforce meeting ICSA conducted a meat yield trial which involved the detailed analysis of two heifers, pre and post slaughter and also commissioned a RED C poll on consumer attitudes to in-spec bonus criteria.

With the meat yield trial, the meat from both carcasses was carefully weighed, category by category, and then priced according to a range of prices available in the main retail outlets. Commenting on the findings, Mr Phelan said, “ICSA’s analysis has shone a light on the massive profiteering by processors and retailers off the back of farmers. It has also shone a light on the cynical tactics being employed by both to deliver huge profits to themselves while beef farmers struggle for their very survival.” The key findings from the analysis are as follows:

  • Processors and retailers are making substantial mark-ups on heifers destined for the supermarket shelf.
  • Higher grade suckler type animals are yielding a lot of added value through higher meat yield which is not reflected in the beef grid payment system.

The survey commissioned by ICSA and conducted through RED C, found the age at which cattle are slaughtered is an important consideration for just one in eight beef consumers. “The results completely refute the argument put forward that the 30-month specification is an essential requirement to satisfy consumers. ICSA had to invest in credible market research from one of Ireland’s most respected market research companies to debunk this myth, and we will continue to cut through the smoke and mirrors and ask the hard questions.”



6 JANUARY 2020

ICSA beef chairman Edmund Graham is urging farmers to bargain hard for their cattle and not to accept €3.60 for steers and heifers. “Prices are still languishing way behind where they should be. We had every expectation that prices would pick up significantly in the new year, but factories are continuing to torture beef farmers with the slow pace of progress. Factories are looking for cattle so the advice is to farmers is to get tough on what they will accept,” he said.

“It beggars belief why the meat industry here is so hell bent on dragging out any meaningful price increases and treating beef farmers with utter contempt, but that it what they are doing. Farmers have been haemorrhaging money and for that to stop we need to see a more rapid rate of price increases and for prices to move above €4/kg in the short term. With supplies not as plentiful as factories would have hoped for in January, the scope is there to bargain hard. 30 months should also not be an issue as most cattle are either well under at present or have gone passed it already. There is absolutely no justification for Irish beef prices remaining in the doldrums at a time when markets all over the globe are powering ahead, helped by demand from China for animal protein.”