MEMBER States gave the green light on June 20th to a proposal to make €50million available to Irish beef producers, which can be matched by national funds to reach a maximum of €100 million.
All delegations voted in favour of the ‘exceptional adjustment aid,’ except Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and Slovenia which abstained. EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan said the fund was a ‘recognition by the Commission of the particular difficulties experienced by Irish beef farmers arising from significant price falls and market uncertainty … the money made available by the EU, which may be matched by the Irish government, will protect a fragile but essential agricultural sector.
‘It will provide direct support to hard-hit farmers and will ensure the long-term viability of the Irish beef sector,’ the Fine Gael politician stated, pledging to “monitor closely the overall market situation.” Once formally adopted by the Commission early next month, Dublin has until July 31 to design the criteria within a set framework for granting the aid. DG AGRI officials insist they must “avoid distortion of competition when distributing it,” while one of the key objectives “should be to ensure the beef and veal sector’s long-term viability through, for example, the development of new markets, implementation of quality schemes, or the improvement of farmers’ environmental sustainability.’ Secretary general of the Department of Agriculture Brendan Gleeson has confirmed that farmers will have to be a member of an environmental scheme or of a quality assurance scheme to draw down the Brexit beef fund. During an address before the Public Accounts Committee on June 20th, the Dublin man said the ‘conditions include membership of an environmental scheme or membership of a quality assurance scheme … there’s a requirement imposed by the Commission that we would have some kind of temporary reduction.’
The Irish beef and veal sector is hugely dependent on exports, with five out of every six tonnes of beef produced exported and almost 50% of this product is destined for the UK. With a fall in margins estimated at 11 to 19% in the past year, the Department of Agriculture (and the Irish Farmers’ Association) has calculated that beef farmers have lost just over €100 million.
• Rose O’Donovan is editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based publication Agra Facts.