Cork Marts has rejected criticism from live exporters that it is driving up the price of Friesian bull calves in its six marts across the south of the country.
Exporters have claimed the Cork Marts practice of buying calves for export at marts in Bandon, Fermoy, Macroom, Cahir, Dungarvan and Skibbereen is putting their livelihoods at risk.
The exporters maintained that Cork Marts was buying calves that would usually be bought by shippers and subsequently undercutting them abroad by offering the calves for sale to Dutch customers at prices of €5-10/hd cheaper than the exporters could provide them.
The exporters were reluctant to be named because they feared it might affect their credit facilities at certain marts.
"There is nothing legally wrong with what Cork Marts is doing but their method of doing it is horrible," maintained one exporter.
Another accused the co-operative-owned chain of marts of "taking the bite out of our mouths". He said exporters were responsible for "putting a floor in the market for cattle" when beef prices were in the doldrums.
"There is no question, this could put us out of business," claimed another.
While a number of exporters said they were already avoiding Cork Marts when buying calves, others said it would be futile to boycott the chain.
"All that would happen if we walked out would be that Cork Marts would get the calves much cheaper that day and sell them for even less," he said.
However, Sean O'Sullivan, chief executive of Cork Marts, rejected the exporters' criticism, saying that the company had been in the exporting business for decades.
"Our role is to run our business according to what's best for our shareholders," he insisted. "Our job is to secure outlets and get the best price we can for our stock. We are not in the business of giving away calves or undercutting anyone."
Mr O'Sullivan said the calves were bought at market value and went through the books as a normal transaction, with the purchases put down to the Cork Marts export company.
"More buyers at the ringside is good for farmers. The more competition there is at the mart, the better for farmers," he insisted.
Cork Marts has exported around 4,200 calves so far this year, which is on a par with recent years, he added.