1 September 2014 Edition
Who is standing up for farmers?
Farmers are calling for fairness, nothing more – for the level playing field the Agriculture Minister is so often saying he wants for everyone
SOMETIMES it is said that Irish agriculture is over regulated, that people cannot farm as they used to. It is only regulated for some people because the latest crisis in beef prices makes me think that the beef processors can do what they like – that they are not subject to regulation at all.
Recently, beef farmers suffered such a drop in income that they were in deep trouble. It is no wonder that they lost confidence in Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who publicly washed his hands of the crisis and said that it was ‘the market’ and he could do nothing about it.
There are those who might say that the market dictated that Irish banks should go bust but that wasn’t allowed to happen, as we all know to our cost.
The beef barons and the retail multiples all across this island are calling the shots and the beef farmer is unprotected in the middle of them.
Isn’t a Minister for Agriculture supposed to be developing, encouraging and protecting agriculture, the backbone of the economy?
Isn’t that his job – not looking after the interests of the beef barons and the supermarket chains, allowing them to control how people earn their living, allowing them to price fix, manipulate the market and do whatever they like.
It is his job to ensure the survival and growth of Irish agriculture and the men and women who work at it every day and the thousands of us who depend on it.
It is not the job of the minister to support the rich people who control the industry. He should be introducing legislation to regulate and scrutinise the beef industry.
The power to do that in the North has not been devolved from Westminster but it is in the power of Simon Coveney to do it in the South.
Farmers are calling for fairness, nothing more. Farmers are calling for transparency and the level playing field that the Agriculture Minister is so often saying he wants for everyone.
How can it be a level playing field if a farmer cannot even estimate what return they will get for their labour and investment while the factories know exactly what will happen, because they control it all?
The response of the minister to the latest crisis was to set up a talking shop where the representatives of the industry could come in and talk to each other.
In the Dáil, I called for the beef barons (the individuals, not their spin doctors or their public relations consultants) to be called into the Oireachtas Committee to answer for their conduct.
It is widely believed that the beef factories have access to the AIMS1 database and farm financial data while farmers are not given access to figures collected by the Department of Agriculture on the number of cattle slaughtered every week or the level of inter-trading among meat factories.
Unless the factory managers are clairvoyant, how do they know when finished cattle are coming on stream?
We can see that the representatives from the beef factories that turn up to the roundtable circus are always vague and evasive in their answers.
• Martin Ferris TD, Martina Anderson MEP, Councillor Johnny Mythen, Michelle O'Neill MLA and Martin McGuinness MP at the National Ploughing Championships
Will the so-called ‘new transparency’ promised include the figures for the number of cattle slaughtered and the inter-trading between factories?
We hear that same old excuse that this is “commercially sensitive” information and that the beef factories won’t allow it to be published. Well, the Agriculture Minister would want to take a stand on behalf of farmers and not allow the factories to call all the shots.
We need a beef regulator to oversee how this industry is operating because, above all, it is not fair.
The recent decision by these processors to implement an additional penalty on cattle sourced from the 26 Counties but processed in the North has further rocked farmers’ confidence in the industry as well as impacting severely on the generations-old all-island trade of cattle.
Sinn Féin has engaged extensively with farmers, the marts and other key stakeholders in recent months, culminating with July’s meeting in Ballinasloe and we are greatly concerned about the devastating effect that this penalty is having on the entire industry. It is well past time that Minister Coveney followed the lead of Sinn Féin Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill in the North who has robustly challenged the introduction of such discriminatory measures.
There should be transparency and equal opportunity to producers, the farmers who produce the cattle. This is not a question of market forces; it is a question of unfair advantage to the factories when they have the figures and the farmers do not.