October 27th 2014
ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan has reiterated that the key issue for this week’s beef roundtable is the unacceptable manipulation of specs by factories and retailers. “It is totally unacceptable that specs such as the 30-month limit for steers and heifers and the sudden introduction of non-viable weight limits and ages for suckler bull beef were used this year as a key mechanism to drive down price. The roundtable has to instigate a complete review of the mechanisms for pricing and specification.”
“Factories and retailers repeat the mantra that the specs reflect what the market wants, but I have yet to meet a consumer who knows the difference or cares less whether their beef comes from a 29-month animal or a 30-month animal. What we do know is that the specs for bull beef are suddenly being dropped as beef scarcity looms. However, the problem is that there is huge doubt among producers and this is having a serious impact on confidence,” said Mr Phelan.
ICSA believes that the Minister should ensure that retailers are represented at the roundtable. “ICSA has written to the Minister to insist that retailers need to answer key questions on spec and to explain price differentials between here and the UK. The roundtable is the forum for this and it is essential that retailers as well as factories are answerable for the decimation of beef farmers income.”
Mr Phelan also repeated the widespread frustration among farmers about the way in which factories have hijacked Quality Assurance. “Every animal coming off a quality assured farm should be getting a quality assured bonus,” he said.
ICSA has confirmed that 3,000 farmers have now signed up to its campaign, which threatens to pull the plug on the Quality Assurance Scheme unless there is meaningful negotiation on these issues. “For example, the 30-month limit is totally arbitrary but it is a very useful tool for factories to squeeze farmers and undermine their negotiating position. This has to change.”
ICSA will also be emphasising the need for more competition for cattle. “We need greater levels of live exports and all obstacles to live exports need to be removed. It is also vital that there is no further consolidation of meat processing in Ireland. Recent rumours of an independent factory being taken over by one of the big meat processors highlight the fact that the sector is too concentrated in the hands of just three big players. Farmers have felt the impact of the shortsighted closure of small abattoirs in the past and the focus now must be to retain as much competition as possible.”