The Beef Plan Movement is driving the current reform process in the beef industry, says Dermot O'Brien
There have been attempts to convince Irish herd owners, that last year's Beef Plan Movement protests caused more harm than good.
Of course this is merely spin by the dominant players in the meat processing industry, who make millions from beef production while the producer struggles to cover their costs of production.
The truth is far different; being awarded recognition by Minister Creed as a farmer representative body was a major success for the Beef Plan Movement.
This was the kickstart that the organisation needed. The beef sector negotiations that ensued were the first negotiations of their kind and an important step in reforming the beef industry. Grassroots' beef farmers were given hope and had a voice at last.
The Beef Sector Agreement which was finalised in September 2019 contained many important points and actions.
The development and introduction of the Beef Taskforce has been a real achievement for those who protested. Stakeholder accountability is one of the key pillars of Beef Plan policy. Protesting farmers felt that they had no representation, but this has changed as beef farmers can see that major changes in policy are coming.
The Taskforce, despite a shaky start, has bedded in and progress is now being made in policy development. This work is slow and will take time.
Price rises have not been immediate or steady, but independent consultants have been appointed to review and report on competition, market requirements and the value of an animal along the supply chain.
The Beef Plan Movement has insisted on 'transfer pricing' being examined in this review, as farmers would like to know where the money is going.
Another achievement of the protests was having the farmer awarded greater powers of negotiation with meat factories.
This was a key development, in that farmers can now come together to demand a fair price for their cattle. The farmer is legislatively protected under 'producer organisation' (PO)status.
In theory this works wonderfully and preserves the rights of farmers to make a living. Furthermore it is a major advantage to meat processors as it improves continuation of supply in the supply chain.
However, the meat factories still have not meaningfully engaged with the PO model because it hands power to farmers.
Fairness and competition
This certainly poses a few questions about fairness and competition and the Taskforce is working to iron out this frustrating impasses.
For now, a priority is that the lack of engagement with beef farmers by meat factories must cease and the Beef Sector Agreement must be fully implemented.
Irish retailers, who attended the Taskforce meeting on January 9 this year revealed some important data regarding their requirements, which contradicted the requirements demanded from farmers by meat processors.
Firstly, there is no absolute requirement for beef with an upper age limit of 30 months; there is no requirement for four residencies, nor is there a requirement for a 60-day on-farm residency.
However, as part of the purchasing specification, all beef sold in Irish stores must be of Irish origin and be quality assured.
This led to an important question being asked of each of the Irish retailers and that was 'would you support full DNAing of the Irish herds for complete traceability?''
All replied yes and stated that they would fully support a national DNA testing policy for the Irish cattle herd.
Meanwhile, the lack of competition in the market is under much scrutiny. The Beef Plan Movement will work to solve this lack of competition and to help beef farmers earn a living for themselves and for the next generations to come.
Dermot O'Brien is chairman of the Beef Plan Movement in Kerry and a joint BPM representative on the Beef Taskforce