Talks began on Monday afternoon aimed at resolving the dispute between cattle farmers and meat processors over the price paid for animals, which led to nationwide pickets of meat plants last week.
Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed persuaded the grassroots Beef Plan movement to stand down their protests and take part in talks last Friday. Speaking on Sunday at the Tullamore show, Mr Creed expressed the hope that the talks would mitigate the “current toxicity” in the sector, which has seen sometimes unruly protests outside meat plants.
The talks at the Department of Agriculture campus at Backweston , Co Kildare , are being attended by Minister, accompanied by his officials, and representatives from the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), Meat Industry Ireland (MII), the Beef Plan movement, and Bord Bia.
During roundtable discussions, the Beef Movement put forward its case that beef processors and retailers got the largest share of the confumer price for beef.
This was against the background of processors and retailers handling cattle for few days, they said, while farmers spent two years rearing cattle.
Members of Beef Plan have claimed that for every €10 of beef bought off shelves, the farmer takes €2, the processor gets €2.90, and the supermarket gets €5.10.
IFA President Joe Healy said beef farmers’ incomes were totally unsustainable and he quoted Teagasc National Farm Survey data for 2018 which showed Cattle rearing incomes at €8,813 on average.
“Confidence, hope and viability have been destroyed by the factories and this has to change,” he said.
Speaking ahead of the meeting Mr Healy told reporters: “We have to make progress here today. We have to address the issues that have been raised here. We have to get real solutions”.
Farmers were in need of an immediate price increase, he said, as well as clarity “on what the Government and EU were proposing in response to Brexit”.
The IFA is seeking a halt to South American beef imports, a compensation package for beef farmers, a €1 billion fund to deal with Brexit, and a campaign to promote sustainable EU beef production. The farming group is also calling on the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to investigate the meat processing sector.
The talks are chaired by the former secretary general of the Department of Agriculture, Michael Dowling , who has been appointed in an independent capacity.
Meanwhile, the IFA called for retailers and the EU Commission to be represented in talks. It said current rules and enforcement on competition in the sector is “a complete joke”.