Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has slammed attacks on beef imports to Ireland as a "populist bandwagon" and warned that Irish farmers would be the biggest losers if there was a renationalisation of the EU beef market.
Over 30,000t of beef worth over €120m was imported into the country last year, according to data obtained by Fianna Fáil TD éamon ó Cuív.
Farm organisations and opposition politicians have been heavily critical of imports in recent weeks as farm-gate beef prices reduced on the back of the Covid-19 crisis.
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy called on Minister Creed to publicly condemn the actions of those factories which have been importing beef when prices given to Irish farmers are on the floor, and to ask owners to cease this practice.
However, Minister Creed said the proposal amounted to "Irish beef for the Irish market" and said the logical conclusion of this would be a renationalisation across Europe of all markets.
"There is a populist element to this in saying that we should not bring in any beef. In an ideal world, we would not bring in any beef, we would eat our own beef and we would send it everywhere else to be eaten," he said.
"The National Farmers Union in the UK is kicking up about Irish beef on UK supermarket shelves. We export 90pc of what we produce. We would be the biggest losers if there were to be a renationalisation.
"If there were only an Irish market for Irish beef, we could have beef for breakfast, dinner and supper and we would still not eat all the beef we have."
However, Independent TD Denis Naughten said: "We export nine out of 10 animals, yet we are importing beef. What is the justification for that? I don't believe there is one."
Meanwhile, IFA president Tim Cullinan has called on the "beef barons" and Meat Industry Ireland to find solutions to the ongoing export market difficulties, as farmers look at cattle in sheds going overweight and out of specification.
"EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski and Michael Creed have been passing the buck to each other. They need to intervene immediately, highlighting that beef finishers are sustaining losses of over €200/hd or more than €5m per week," he said.
ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham has said confidence in the Beef Taskforce will be completely lost if it fails to tackle the crisis within the beef sector as a result of Covid-19.
"We have been categorically let down by the Department of Agriculture's failure to convene a meeting of the Beef Taskforce in response to these unprecedented challenges. Expecting farmers to continue to operate in a complete vacuum of information is inexcusable," he said.