'I'm very worried for the future of the beef industry' - Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA

Cormac McQuinn and Claire Fox

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that that he is "very worried" for the future of the Irish beef industry and that continuing blockades are "making a bad situation worse".

Mr Varadkar said that continuing blockades of meat plants across the country are putting the livelihoods of farmers and factory workers at risk, while Irish beef trade could also be in jeopardy.

“I’m really worried about the jobs being lost and people working in those meat plants and I’m also really worried about the future of the Irish beef industry because if those plants don’t reopen we know what’s going to happen," he said.

“Most of our beef is exported. 90pc of it is. And those people around the world will just buy beef from somewhere else. There’s a real risk that the ongoing blockades are making a bad situation worse.”

He added that he acknowledges “the really hard time that beef farmers have had for the last year whereby the base price has been less than the cost of production” but pointed toward the €100m Brexit Beef fund the government put in place for beef farmers in recent weeks.

He urged all stakeholders to give the recent agreement between farm organisations and the meat industry a chance and added that factories must engage with producer groups to ensure the future of the beef industry.

“What needs to happen next is for people to give the agreement a chance to work and in particular I’d like to see the meat industry and meat factories agreeing to engage with producer organisations. At the moment beef farmers are price takers,” he said.

“At the moment we now have a producer organisation, there’s a possibility of them being able to bargain and negotiate with factories and being able to get a better price and proper contracts. I’d really like the meat industry and the factories saying very publicly that they will engage with producer organisations.”

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This comes as over €2m of local beef is currently caught up in illegal blockade at Dawn Meat’s Charleville facility.

The processor says that upwards of €2.25m worth of finished beef is being illegally refused exit from the Dawn Meats plant in Charleville by 10 non-beef farmers engaged in illegal blockades.

The facility which is now in shutdown mode employs over 300 staff and exports beef to over 20 countries.

It is also understood that at least 12 meat plants are still blockaded by protesters across the country as they ignore calls by seven farming organisations and a range of politicians to end the ongoing protests.

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