MORE than 1,000 farmers have signed up to a boycott of Bord Bia's Quality Assurance scheme in a desperate attempt to extract better prices for their cattle from the meat processors.
Launched by the ICSA less than one week ago, the petition has already secured the support of 1,000 farmers, despite the Quality Assurance (QA) scheme being recognised as a key marketing tool for Irish beef exports.
The action comes amid claims that just 25pc of the national cattle kill is getting the 12c/kg QA bonus - even though 90pc of the stock being processed through the meat plants are from QA farms.
While Bord Bia have confirmed that the Bord Bia QA label can be used on all of the meat from QA herds, they said that the QA bonus was always intended for in-spec cattle only.
"We've actually seen a 25pc increase in membership of the QA scheme since January, and we're certainly not getting lads ringing up telling us that they want out of the scheme," said Bord Bia beef specialist, Joe Burke.
However, ICSA president Patrick Kent argued that farmers who have gone to the trouble of ensuring that their farms were eligible for the Quality Assurance scheme should not be denied the QA bonus.
"The 30-months limit, the number of movements and residency periods, and conformation grades - these are spurious reasons used to deny farmers bonuses even though they have gone further to deliver quality assurance," said Mr Kent.
The ICSA will be asking farmers from all organisations to sign up to the petition at the Ploughing Championships this week, under the slogan: 'No fair play for farmers - no quality assurance for factories'.
The organisation has stressed that the details of farmers signing up for the boycott will remain confidential.
"Under no circumstances will the list of names be shown to factories or Bord Bia. Instead a neutral and confidential auditor will be appointed to confirm the numbers," it said.
The ICSA has called on Minister Coveney to do more to help beef farmers and establish a beef regulator to examine feedlots, retailer and slaughter specifications. But the organisation also claimed that it was time for "farmers to stand up and fight".
"We understand that the Quality Assurance Scheme is important for key markets, but farmers cannot continue to allow themselves to be exploited without getting a fair share from the scheme," said ICSA beef chairman, Edmond Phelan.
He claimed that €168m had been creamed off farmers in the last year by factories and retailers at a time when British retail prices were firm and exchange rates were positive.
Meanwhile, the ICMSA has also joined in the criticism of how the QA scheme is being operated. Its analysis shows that the percentage of steers qualifying for the 12c/kg QA bonus has decreased by one third over the last three years.
"In 2011 and 2012 three out of every four steers killed were securing the bonus. This has fallen dramatically to the point where only half of steers get the QA bonus," said ICMSA president, John Comer. He highlighted that 95pc of the steers from QA farms had less than four movements, and 70pc were under 30 months.