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Letters to the Editor: 'A solution to beef debacle'

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The Beef farmers protest over beef prices at the Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh Co. Kilkenny.

The Beef farmers protest over beef prices at the Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh Co. Kilkenny.

Dylan Vaughan

The Beef farmers protest over beef prices at the Dawn Meats plant in Grannagh Co. Kilkenny.

Sir - While any amount of deals may have been done by the time my letter is published, I'm writing it on Monday, just after the 9 o'clock news - and the minister is pleading to farmers on the pickets not to destroy the beef industry.

But for the protesters, their industry is already destroyed, so he must be pleading on behalf of the processors. The beef industry was destroyed by a so-called 'Competition Authority' and successive ministers who willingly cooperated as three processors gained control of 90pc of the industry.

The same is happening in the sheep trade. Last year, when the Goodman Group wanted to take over Slaney Meats (which would take their share of the industry from 22pc to over 50pc), every farm organisation objected. The matter was referred to the 'Competition Authority'. Guess what? Neither it, nor the minister, could see anything wrong with it. So it went ahead. Politicians are coming out of this 'beef debacle' badly. Their big concern seems to be the big three processors, not the 100,000 broke farmers.

Farmers think the politicians and the Competition Authority are somehow in the pockets of the beef barons. Why?

The minister sits idly by as the processors and retailers gobble up an ever greater share of the consumer spend.

The 'Competition Authority' can see no evidence of a cartel?

Three processors have control of 90pc of the industry. They each make in excess of €20m a year. They all keep a few thousand cattle - which they can bring out if the market starts to strengthen. They are all supplied by a captive cohort of 100,000 farmers, whose only source of disposable income is their EU payment once a year.

Is that not a perfect description of a cartel?

And when the IFA tried to do something about it, it was accused of trying to form a cartel - and its offices were raided by the 'Competition Authority'.

Is there a solution?

Yes, and it is simple - but as it requires courage from politicians, it won't happen. But here it is anyway. Introduce two laws.

First: No processor can have more than 10pc of the national kill. (If we had 12 similarly sized processors they would surely bid against each other for supplies.)

Second: No processor can own cattle. (As is the case in the USA. They wouldn't be able to bring out their own cattle to dampen an improving trade).

John Hourigan,

Murroe, Co Limerick

Sunday Independent