Beef dispute: O'Brien hopes farmers back agreement

"It's the best everyone could do"

Tadhg Evans

The agreement reached between meat industry and farm organisation representatives is "the best everyone could do" according to Kerry and South West Beef Plan Movement Chairperson Dermot O'Brien, following the latest development seeking to end the marathon beef dispute, ongoing since late July.

On Sunday evening (15th), Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed announced a two-strand agreement, aspects of which "will provide immediate benefit for beef producers", as well as a range of strategic measures to address structural issues in the sector.

"The majority [of farmers] do see the light," said the Firies-based Mr O'Brien. "What has been agreed doesn't have everything we set out to get, but we've got an awful lot, and it's the best everyone could do."

Protesting began outside meat factories in late July under the banner of the Beef Plan Movement (BPM), but Mr O'Brien said protesting has continued independently of the movement since BPM stood down its protests last month. Meat Industry Ireland (MII) said last week that 3,000 employees of its members had been temporarily laid off and that 80 per cent of its operating capacity had closed. MII has claimed that staff and suppliers have been subject to intimidation by some protesters.

Among the immediate measures included in the agreement are an increase on the in-spec bonus for steers and heifers from 12 cents per kilo to 20 cents per kilo; a new eight-cent-per-kilo bonus for steers and heifers aged between 30 and 36 months; and the in-spec 70-day residency requirement will be cut to 60 days on the last farm. Teagasc will carry out an immediate scientific review of the Quality Payment Grid, and Bord Bia will develop a beef market price index model to be introduced this week.

Among the strategic measures outlined are an independent review of market and customer requirements. Minister Creed will also appoint an independent chairperson of a newly established Beef Market Task Force.

The conditions of the agreement include an immediate end to "blockades and protests"; and that all legal proceedings by beef processors in relation to these against farm organisations and individual farmers be withdrawn.

Mr O'Brien said protesting has continued at sites around the country despite this weekend's developments, but he insisted that most farmers can see the benefits of "what we've achieved to date".

"The farmers protesting come from a wide range of farming organisations, and some are independent of these organisations, and I'd be happy to go to the pickets with other farming organisations to convince protesters.

"I think one of our biggest achievements to date is the establishment of a Beef Producer Organisation last week. I'd be hoping farmers get involved with this and it will give us more clout to negotiate better prices, and I would hope farmers consider this development along with the agreement."