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Tread cautiously — Slaughter age cut could prompt Beef Plan-style protests

Margaret Donnelly


Protest: Farmers picketing outside Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh. Photo: Eamonn Farrell

Protest: Farmers picketing outside Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh. Photo: Eamonn Farrell

Protest: Farmers picketing outside Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh. Photo: Eamonn Farrell

In late August 2019, as protests continued outside a host of meat factories, Eoin Donnelly, then of the Beef Plan Movement, wrote to the then Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, detailing how the dispute might be brought to an end.

The only way to make progress, he told the minister, was to ensure that there is full and open disclosure on the retail specification that processors are being asked to enforce on farmers.

He said the decision to reject the final conclusion of the recent talks was heavily influenced by what he says was a lack of meaningful progress on the 30-month age limit, the four-movement limit and the 70-day single farm residency.

“These issues are of fundamental importance to our members as they are widely considered to be the key unfair trading practices that are used to manipulate the market,” he said.

There have been a whole host of theories over why the 2019 beef protests took off and received such strong support. No doubt, the poor beef price at the time was a key factor, but Mr Donnelly’s intervention highlighted the frustration many farmers had about factory specifications and in particular, the 30-month age rule.

As the Government undertakes to reduce the average slaughter age from 27 months to 24 months, they would do well to tread cautiously or they could well have 2019-style protests on their hands.

As we report on P1 and P4, reducing the average slaughter age to 24 months would up-end the beef sector as we know it today. Put simply, many farmers’ beef enterprises are totally unsuited to systems that would achieve this result.

That said, the trend toward lower slaughter age is only going in one direction. In 2000 54pc of the cattle slaughtered were aged over 30 months. Last year, that figure was just 14pc.

No doubt, farmers will point to the harsh price cuts as the reason for this, but research has shown finishing cattle younger can increase profitability.

Finding the right way to reduce the slaughter age will be a key early test of the Government’s Climate Action plans for agriculture.

All sides must act responsibly in its implementation. Slaughtering cattle earlier won’t suit every farm, but it will suit many. The key is that farmers are paid adequately to do it.

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