• Farming

‘Pay farmers not lawyers’ – ICSA boss

Saturday, 31st August, 2019 9:40am
‘Pay farmers not lawyers’ – ICSA boss

Protesting beef farmers in discussion with a cattle truck driver outside ABP Bandon on Wednesday morning last. (Photo: Denis Boyle)

ICSA president Edmond Phelan has called on the meat industry to forget about litigation against helpless farmers who are on their knees.

‘The only solution for individual meat factories is to put cash on the table and offer a substantial price increase. Farmers cannot survive at current prices which are way below the cost of production,’ he said.

His statement came as a group of farmers resumed their protest outside ABP Bandon, despite a court injuction. The farmers are unhappy with the outcome of the talks which took place recently and are asking Minister Michael Creed to intervene in the price impasse.

A copy of a court injunction against the Beef Plan Movement is posted outside the factory gates, but this farmers’ organisation denies that it is behind this week’s renewed. The farmers involved in the protest say they have nothing else to lose at this stage and that they're here for the long haul.

Aontú party leader, Peadar Tóibín, TD, blamed the government for allowing such a situation to develop: ‘Paying farmers a rate for their produce which is below the production costs, while the processing industry continues showing substantial profits, is economically unjust,’ he stated.

‘The unchallenged power of meat processors and supermarkets is causing damage to our agricultural sector, leading to fewer and fewer farmers, which is damaging Ireland's ability to be self-sufficient in food supply.

‘The absence of government support for beef farmers, combined with the disastrous EU-Mercosur trade deal, negotiated by Fine Gael's European Commissioner Phil Hogan, it is clear that economic justice for ordinary Irish people, including farmers, is far from what the government is pursuing.

‘Economic justice demands government intervention in the beef sector,’ he demanded, accusing Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed of not taking his job seriously and said that he should act as an arbitrator in the current dispute.

‘If necessary, State supports should be withheld from the dominant beef processing sector,’ Mr Tóibín suggested.

However, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has strongly defended its position, opining that the price currently paid to Irish farmers for their cattle is the average price paid to their European counterparts. The group representing the main meat processors warned that the ongoing illegal blockades are putting Irish jobs at risk, putting our exports to existing customers at risk and damaging our ability to win new markets for Irish beef. ‘Ultimately, these blockades threaten the livelihoods of all stakeholders in the sector.

The blockading activity, which is stopping both cattle entering and meat consignments exiting an increasing number of beef processing facilities has left companies with no alternative but to seek legal protection for the business from the Court,’ MII stated.

‘Thousands of jobs are being put at risk, hard-won customers for Irish beef cannot be served and will quickly look for an alternative supply. New market opportunities in countries such as China will be prevented from expanding and farmers with market-ready cattle are being stopped from processing them.

‘We export 90% of the beef we produce to over 45 markets across Europe and beyond. The overall beef market is currently extremely challenging and the action taken by those blockading is in no one’s interest.’

However, ICSA’s Edmond Phelan said that there could be no more talks with the meat industry while the threat of court fines hangs over farm representatives or individual farmers: ‘The solution to this is simple; it won’t be found in the courts. Pay farmers a fair price instead of paying lawyers big fees.’

He believes that the court injunctions have been ‘a catastrophic error by the meat industry’ in terms of the planned Chinese inspections of Irish meat plants: ‘ICSA wants to see more beef and lamb sold in China, but we insist that it is time to see a dividend for farmers from these new markets.

‘Farmers are sick of seeing new markets being opened that are delivering absolutely nothing to farmers on price.’