More than two months on since its last sitting, the Department of Agriculture has confirmed that the next meeting of the Beef Taskforce will take place in March.
While an exact date for has not yet be verified by Agriculture House, the Department has clarified that it has “no plans” to live stream future meetings publicly – as was recently suggested by independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice.
The meeting update follows weeks of pressure from farm organisations and rural TDs who have repeatedly called for the reconvening of the multi-stakeholder forum in response to recent factory price cuts.
ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has criticised the pace at which the taskforce is conducting its business contending that “it is far too slow”.
"There should be greater scope for farm organisations to compel the taskforce to meet. Beef prices have been inexplicably cut in recent weeks and ICSA wants answers as to why this is happening.
“Unfortunately, we have been left high and dry by the Beef Taskforce which has not met since December of last year.
"We are still in the middle of a global pandemic and farmers are also still feeling the wrath of Brexit. It is inexcusable that we are being left in the dark at what continues to be a perilous time, and when the livelihoods of so many beef farmers are hanging in the balance,” he said.
He contends that all taskforce stakeholders “should be answerable to one another” and that “all stakeholders must have the ability to convene the taskforce”.
"We believe Minister McConalogue has a duty to introduce such a protocol. As issues arise and beef farmers are looking for answers and guidance, it’s just not good enough that certain members of the taskforce can simply run for cover and get away with being answerable to no one.
“Farmers and their representatives are being left to stew until it suits the other various stakeholders to meet.
"Right now, we do not know when that could even happen, or even if it is the taskforce chair Michael Dowling, the Department or the meat industry calling the shots at this point,” he said.
Last week, deputy Fitzmaurice urged the Agriculture Minister to consider live streaming taskforce meetings from now on, while Clare independent Michael McNamara demanded answers on why the stakeholder grouping has not sat since December 2020.
Mr Fitzmaurice said: "It is as well to tell the minister straight out that there is speculation that some of the retail operators have told the factories to pull back to three days a week because there will be a shortage of cattle later – and the longer they hold back to three days a week, the more of an opportunity there will be to flood the market.
"This needs investigating but the taskforce is not sitting. Will the minister get the chairman of the taskforce to sit at least once a month?
"Farmers only hear what happens a month after the task force meets and they need to be able to see what happens live. That is important.”
In response to queries on whether the Department would consider making taskforce meeting available for farmers to watch live online, a DAFM spokesperson said: “The next meeting of the Beef Taskforce will take place in March at a date to be confirmed.
"Meetings of the Beef Taskforce operate in line with the terms of reference for the Taskforce which were agreed by all members at the group’s establishment. There are no plans to change the current format.”