ICSA in crisis as QPS row deepens

Council and beef committee meet to iron out grid differences

Martin Ryan

A serious rift has developed within the ICSA between the association's national council and its national beef committee.

The dispute centres on the quality payment system (QPS) for cattle. The organisation supported the QPS initially, but the national beef committee has rejected that stance and recently called for the payment system to be abandoned completely.

Four leading members of the beef committee have been threatened with disciplinary action, allegedly over their outspoken opposition to the QPS.

However, all four are refusing to alter their stance on the grid. It is understood that a critical meeting between the two sides is scheduled for this evening.

Beef committee chairman Peter Fox confirmed that the rejection of the QPS in its present form was again endorsed at a recent beef committee meeting at which there was an almost full representation of county delegates.

"We are not happy with the grid and that is the view of the committee. There was only one dissenting voice, but we are being overruled by the national council, where a majority of the members are not beef finishers," Mr Fox said.

Insisting that beef suppliers to the factories are worse off under the QPS, he repeated the call for an immediate suspension of the grid in its current form, stating that producers' concerns over the reliability of the automated mecha- nical grading machines had increased farmer opposition to the payment system.

"In my view, no farm organisation can remain credible by continuing to give support to the QPS grid, which is built on a grading system the accuracy of which is in question," the Ballymahon beef producer said.

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"I believe that with the continuing farmer resistance to the current QPS grid, it will lead to its abandonment and to its replacement by a fairer quality pricing system. In my view, this is the biggest challenge for the beef committee and the ICSA," Mr Fox added.

Other members of the beef committee who have spoken out in opposition to the grid include the vice-chairman, Tom Egan, former beef committee chairman Sean Scully and Waterford county executive chairman Martin Coughlan.

However, ICSA president Gabriel Gilmartin remains committed to the quality payment grid, although he has called for changes to the current system to tackle shortcomings which have arisen.

"Nobody thinks the grid is perfect. In fact we have already pointed out serious shortcomings in the detail of its implementation.

"Moreover, the bonus paid for quality cattle is utterly inadequate in the context of a base price that has been kept in the doldrums all year," Mr Gilmartin said. "It is a shocking reality that, according to the EU R3 reference price, our farmers are getting less for beef than all of our EU counterparts in the EU-15, and, worst of all, our beef price compares unfavourably with east European beef prices.

"At the end of April, for example, Irish beef price trailed behind the price in Slovenia and the Czech Republic, and was only marginally ahead of Slovakia. However, I have to reiterate that ICSA believes that the concept of a grid is a step in the right direction, we must have rewards for quality cattle.

"I don't blame farmers for being frustrated with the meat industry, and I am happy to discuss these issues. But as president, I cannot go against the democratic decision of the national executive."

Irish Independent

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