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10,000 meat factory staff could be hit by farmer blockades

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Michael O'Riordan, Macroom Christy Keohane, Caheragh Skibbereen and Flor McCarthy, Bantry. Picture Denis Boyle

Michael O'Riordan, Macroom Christy Keohane, Caheragh Skibbereen and Flor McCarthy, Bantry. Picture Denis Boyle

Michael O'Riordan, Macroom Christy Keohane, Caheragh Skibbereen and Flor McCarthy, Bantry. Picture Denis Boyle

UP to 10,000 meat factory workers will be disrupted this week as beef farmers stage their second blockade of processing plants in as many weeks.

It comes as 4,000 cattle farmers are threatening to withdraw from the Quality Assurance scheme claiming it has been "abused" by factories in order to drive down prices.

Thousands of farmers are expected to turn out at 14 of the country's biggest food processors again today, as they continue to demonstrate over what they describe as the "massive gap" which has emerged between prices paid to farmers in Ireland and the UK.

The Irish Farmers Association's (IFA) 48-hour protest is the second such blockade in the last two weeks. It kicked off at 3pm yesterday and will continue until tomorrow.

Meanwhile the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) will meet with Meat Industry Ireland this morning to call for a range of changes to specifications for beef pricing.

Patrick Kent, president of the ICSA, said it has already signed up over 4,000 farmers who are threatening to withdraw cooperation with the Quality Assurance Scheme unless progress is made on their demands.

"We are holding back on this threat to see if progress can be made but we will continue to sign up farmers for the campaign if today's meeting does not yield any breakthrough," he warned.

He said that while price is obviously "a source of huge anger" for his members, they believe it is the underlying specifications governing age and weight limits for cattle, as well as the "abuse" of the Quality Assurance Scheme, which has facilitated price cuts over the past year costing farmers at least €170m.

The IFA is due to return to talks with meat processors on Wednesday with its president, Eddie Downey, saying the sticking point is the disparity between beef prices in the UK and Ireland.

"We have made significant progress over the last fortnight over a series of engagements. The big issue is the price differentiation between ourselves and the UK," Mr Downey told the Irish Independent. He said reaching a resolution is now up to the meat factory industry.

However, Ciaran Fitzgerald, chairman of the Meat Industry Ireland, told RTE radio: "The price we are paying is very much market reflective and very fair."

Irish Independent