Thursday 23 October 2014

Farm leaders deliver ultimatum to factories on QA scheme 'abuse'

Declan O'Brien and Martin Ryan

Published 16/07/2014 | 02:30

ICSA president Patrick Kent.
ICSA president Patrick Kent.

FARM organisations have threatened to torpedo Ireland's €2bn beef export strategy by withdrawing support from Bord Bia's Beef Quality Assurance Scheme.

In a serious escalation of the beef dispute, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Association (ICSA) said it would boycott the quality assurance (QA) scheme because of what the organisation described as the "abuse" of the scheme by meat processors.

And in a further blow to the QA scheme, the ICMSA has warned that serious questions about farmer participation in the scheme were now being asked.

ICSA president Patrick Kent said the organisation was "declaring war" on the abuse of the QA scheme by the factories and retailers.

"Farmers cannot continue to support a scheme indefinitely where only one in four cattle gets a quality assurance bonus, even though 87pc of animals slaughtered come from quality assured farms," Mr Kent said.

Ultimatum

He said the ICSA was issuing an ultimatum to processors and retailers: "Deal with the issues raised by farmers, or farmers will have no option but to boycott quality assurance."

The ICSA has called for:

  • A QA bonus for all cattle coming from QA farms;
  • An end to the undermining of the mart trade with artificial rules on residency and number of movements;
  • The removal of proposed weight limits of 380kg for quality continental suckler herd bulls to be replaced with a strategy for viable prices up to 450kg for this stock;
  • An end to dual pricing whereby the base price is no longer available to certain categories of animals and some prime animals are getting prices below cow prices;
  • Immediate stabilisation of beef prices, followed by price increases as market demand improves;
  • A resolution to the problem of exporting stores to Northern Ireland.

Mr Kent said that the ICSA accepted that these issues would take time to solve and, for that reason, the organisation would delay calling on farmers to withdraw from the QA scheme until November 1.

"We understand that this is a drastic move, but ICSA cannot stand idly by when we see that cattle farmers are at the edge of despair on income," Mr Kent said.

"Why should farmers cooperate with a scheme when we get none of the benefits from it?" he asked.

The concerns raised by the ICSA have been echoed by the ICMSA.

The association's livestock chairman Michael Guinan said many farmers should be seriously asking themselves why are they participating in the QA scheme.

Mr Guinan said Bord Bia also had serious questions to answer if the State body, as the operator of the scheme,

supported a pricing policy that excluded farmers' cattle from bonus payments.

Mr Guinan asked why farmers should continue to support the scheme when the QA bonus was only paid on 32 categories of cattle from the 225-box beef grid. He also asked why cattle over 30 months were excluded from bonus payments.

"There is a serious and important contradiction between the QA scheme and what meat plants are requiring and Bord Bia again needs to spell out its position and immediately clarify if there been a change in policy," Mr Guinan maintained.

"ICMSA has always questioned the validity of the current beef grid (QPS) and there is now a strongly held view from farmers that a complete review is long overdue.

"The review must be radical, particularly in light of the makeup of the Irish beef herd in the coming years," he added.

More than 42,500 farmers are members of the Bord Bia QA scheme and the initiative has been a key plank in the country's marketing strategy for Ireland's multi-million euro beef exports.

Any threat to farmer participation in the scheme would be a serious blow to the beef exports.

Responding to the concerns of the farm organisations, a Bord Bia spokesperson said the State body acknowledged and understood the deep anger and frustration among livestock farmers arising from the current difficulties in the beef market.

The marketing body accepted that issues had arisen around consistency and transparency in how the quality assurance scheme was applied by industry, and it recognised that these issues would need to be addressed if continued farmer support was to be forthcoming.

"Bord Bia is particularly concerned that farmers should continue to have full confidence in the role of the Beef Quality Assurance Scheme, which is so vital in retaining access to premium markets and to underpinning a premiumisation and differentiation strategy among retail and foodservice customers," a Bord Bia statement read.

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