Factories and farmers strike deal in beef talks
A bitter dispute between farmers and factories over beef prices has been resolved after a deal was struck following marathon talks.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said “a template for the future of the beef sector” was agreed and that the outcome had been “very positive” and demonstrated a “strong commitment to the beef industry by all of the parties in the forum”.
However the burning issue of cattle prices has not been settled.
The package of measures hammered out by Mr Coveney and officials from the Department of Agriculture at the Beef Forum were accepted by the key farm organisations in Backweston, Co Kildare.
It centred on changes to weight, age and movement specifications which have been introduced by the meat processors over the past 12 months in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.
Mr Coveney said the comprehensive list of key actions had been agreed to address concerns raised by beef farmers in recent months.
The nine hours of talks came after a 48-hour protest by farmers this week over low returns, changes to specifications and a wide gap with UK beef prices, with many farmers warning they will resume their action if they don't see significant increases.
However the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) chief executive Eddie Downey said he remains determined that prices must move on and that increased market returns are passed back to farmers.
He said the thousands of farmers who protested at the factories over the unacceptable €350 price gap with the UK have sent a very strong message that cattle prices must increase. Prices have risen by another 5c/kg this week.
Mr Downey said the behaviour of the meat factories this year on specifications and their dealings with farmers has seriously damaged trust.
“The beef protest has sent a clear message to meat factory bosses that farmers must be treated fairly and with respect,” he said.
“At last evening’s forum, Minister Coveney secured agreement from the meat factories that the specifications issues will be resolved.”
Elsewhere the IFA welcomed the progress on all of the key specification issues, including reinstatement of the quality payment system, the removal of weight limits and a new quality assurance incentive payment for all steers and heifers from January 2015.
Eddie Punch, general secretary of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association, said the progress in the negotiations so far had justified farmer opposition to the low beef prices.
However as both sides sat down to the discuss the issues, a Government watchdog had warned against price fixing.
The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) said it had written to both sides "to remind them of their obligations under competition law - in the interests of consumers".
The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association had slated the CCPC's intervention as "brass-necked and partisan" and rejected its claim it was protecting consumers.
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness also questioned the timing, noting it had not commented until now on the problems in the beef market.
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