Protesting farmers attempt to secure deals with individual meat plants

Michael Creed says beef producers are set to benefit. Photo: Arthur Carron
Michael Creed says beef producers are set to benefit. Photo: Arthur Carron

Ciaran Moran and Margaret Donnelly

Representations from groups protesting outside meat factories are attempting to secure beef price rises from individual meat plants it has emerged.

Pickets have continued at a host of meat plants despite an agreement over the weekend between farm organisations and meat processors to end a long-running dispute.

Speaking to RTE Radio Meat Industry Ireland Director, Cormac Healy confirmed there some representations made at a local level by protestors and he is aware that base price has been raised.

"Effectively this is a blackmailing situation", he claimed.

"Protesters are illegally blocking the gates and suggesting the can discuss with management when they can reopen," he said.

Protesting farmers at factory gates could yet reject the deal that was agreed by the main farming organisations yesterday to end weeks of protests.

The agreement comes after seven farming bodies met Meat Industry Ireland (MII), which represents the factories, on Saturday and yesterday to discuss the protests which started on July 28.

However, while the main farming organisations welcomed the agreement, the Independent Farmers, which formed in recent weeks to represent the picketers, said it can neither accept nor reject the proposals.

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"This decision has to be taken by all the peaceful protesters at the factory gates," it said. It added that meetings would take place to achieve a consensus and to determine what course of action would be pursued.

The deal will see a number of critical changes to the specification requirements farmers must produce cattle to, but will not affect the base price farmers get for their stock.

Farmers have been protesting about the prices they receive for beef with returns down as much as €150 per head of cattle.

The agreement involves several interventions which, according to Agriculture Minister Michael Creed, will provide an immediate benefit for beef producers, as well as a range of strategic measures which seek to address structural imbalances in the sector.

However, it is not yet known if the measures agreed will satisfy protesting farmers, whose position has become increasingly entrenched in recent weeks.

Once again, the talks could not discuss beef prices, which have collapsed in the past 12 months and are seen as the critical issue by many farmers on the picket line.

Last week, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) told the Irish Independent that discussions on pricing were generally prohibited under competition law.

In communications with the IFA, the CCPC said an agreement between competitors to fix prices had traditionally been regarded as one of the most flagrant breaches of competition law.

Any communications or discussions between competitors on prices would carry an inherent risk of infringing competition law, the CCPC added.

MII welcomed the conclusion of the beef talks and said it recognised the challenges all involved in the industry faced.

It added the agreed package contained significant positive financial initiatives by MII members, in areas of specifications, bonuses and supply chain transparency.

However, it warned that for the agreement to enter into force, blockades and protests must be removed immediately.

The agreement also sets out that beef processors undertake that all legal proceedings against farm organisations and individual farmers will be withdrawn.

Welcoming the deal, Macra na Feirme president Thomas Duffy said it would mean almost €24m of new money would be transferred into the pockets of beef farmers.

"We particularly welcome the increases in bonus payments which will bring over 150,000 animals into bonus payment territory," he said.

President of ICMSA Pat McCormack said that "progress" had been made and it was now time - six weeks from Brexit - for the sector to come together and move forward as a unified whole.

He also said the establishment of the Beef Market Task Force must have as its starting point the delivery of adequate margins for the farmer primary-producer.

IFA president Joe Healy said it was a realistic and deliverable agreement.

Irish Independent

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