ICSA criticises Coveney's 'no need for beef regulator' claim

Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney
Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food Simon Coveney

Martin Ryan and Declan O’Brien

The ICSA has slammed Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney's assertion that there was no need for a regulator in the beef industry.

Speaking in the Dáil last week, Minister Coveney said there was no need for a beef regulator, indicating that the appointment of one would suggest that there were problems in the sector.

He also rejected assertions that control of the rendering facilities by a limited number of operators was a contributory factor to difficulties in securing higher prices.

"I do not think we should put a beef regulator in place, independent of the Government, because that would suggest that there is something seriously wrong. I am not sure that there is any evidence to support that suggestion," Minister Coveney said.

"At the moment we have a very successful beef industry in Ireland which we are looking to build on further. If there is any evidence to suggest that there is something fundamentally wrong in terms of the structures or dominance within the market, the Competition Authority can investigate that."

The Minister was replying to Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, Fianna Fáil spokesman on agriculture, who claimed there were "huge concerns" about the concentration of ownership within the beef industry.

"In view of this, would the Minister be in favour of the introduction of a beef industry regulator, as is the case with other industries which are highly concentrated in terms of ownership?" Deputy Ó Cuív asked.

Listing the identity and location of the 10 licenced rendering plants in the country, Minister Coveney said that as far as he was aware these companies were in different ownership.

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Relaxed attitude

"If the Deputy (Ó Cuív) has more information in that regard, I will try to be helpful on the matter," he commented.

However, the ICSA, who called for the appointment by the Minister of a regulator for the beef industry, has reacted angrily to the Minister's comments.

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan said that he was astonished at the relaxed attitude displayed by Minister Coveney in the Dáil.

"The Minister seems unaware that the U3 bull price is down 50c/kg since last August and a whopping 90c/kg compared with last June, representing a €378 loss on a 420kg carcass," Mr Phelan said.

"Worse still is the fact that a bull weighing above 420kg is getting hit another 15c/kg, so the potential to cover losses by higher weights is gone," he added.

"Minister Coveney needs to come out of denial and face the inconvenient truth that there is a huge crisis in the beef sector and this is going to have a huge knock-on effect on the quality continental suckler herd. Food Harvest 2020 is dead in the water."

Mr Phelan said that he was also amazed at comments by the Minister that price and market specification are matters to be determined by purchasers and sellers of cattle.

"Surely the Minister is not suggesting that farmers had any say in the unilateral imposition of 16-month and 420kg specs overnight? Moreover, he can't be seriously saying that farmers have any say in price setting," Mr Phelan claimed.

"The reality is that there is no realistic possibility of many powerless farmers negotiating price or spec on equal footing with the oligopoly that is the Irish beef processing sector.

"The vast majority of beef in this country is sold by farmers without a contract and it is insulting for the Minister to imply that farmers have any control over this situation."

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