Coveney calls for calm as QA 'boycott' threat splits industry
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association (ICSA) has defended its call for a boycott of Bord Bia's Beef Quality Assurance Scheme because of what it has termed "the abuse" of the scheme by processors and retailers.
"Farmers are simply not seeing the benefits of the scheme," said ICSA spokesman Edmond Phelan in response to accusations that the organisation was taking an "irresponsible" stance that would further depress beef prices.
The ICSA claims that additional conditions, which have been added to the quality assurance scheme, mean that QA has been used as a tool by processors to drive down beef prices over the last year.
However, Bord Bia and Meat Industry Ireland (MII) have questioned the logic of such a move, while the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, urged both processors and farmers to work to rebuild trust in the beef industry.
MII described suggestions that farmers should boycott the QA schemes as "highly irresponsible" and claimed that such a move would have "a catastrophic impact on the price achieved for Irish beef and the incomes of Irish beef farmers".
"The Bord Bia quality assurance scheme is a critical part of Ireland's beef export marketing capability and is a vital ingredient i n maintaining and securing premium markets for Irish beef," the MII statement insisted.
"Without a quality assured scheme and quality assured product, Ireland's returns, and access to premium EU and international markets for our beef, would reduce dramatically," the processor organisation warned.
Reacting to the call for a boycott, Minister Coveney said there was a responsibility on farmers and processors to ensure that the scheme worked well.
"I would urge beef processors and farm bodies to work together to rebuild trust and confidence in the sector," he said.
"It is clear that beef prices are significantly lower this year than last, and that farmers are under pressure as a result.
"However, Bord Bia's Beef Quality Assurance Scheme is a cornerstone of our efforts to position Irish beef in premium outlets in UK and continental retail outlets, and to access new markets such as the US.
Bord Bia said the quality assurance scheme was a voluntary one and it was up to each individual farmer to decide whether to remain in it.
"However, any producer contemplating withdrawal should bear in mind that it will only serve to depress returns even further, since quality assurance is critical to accessing premium markets," the marketing body pointed out.
Responding to the criticisms , ICSA beef chairman, Edmond Phelan, said that Bord Bia's defence of scheme was misplaced.
"We have no dispute with Bord Bia, but farmers are simply not seeing the benefits of this scheme," he said. "Despite all the requirements that farmers must meet to participate in the scheme, it is being abused by processors and retailers in an effort to extract better margins."
Mr Phelan also refuted criticism of ICSA's stance from MII: "The major act of irresponsibility here has been the undermining of bull beef from the suckler herd. If meat processors want farmers support, it's in their own hands - be fair and transparent in relation to QAS/QPS payments."
The IFA said that it strongly supported the quality assurance scheme, but accused processors of undermining it by introducing dual pricing for quality assured and non-quality assured cattle on the beef grid. IFA president, Eddie Downey, called on the factories to remove "the unfair specification cuts imposed on dual pricing and weights".
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