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1 December 2014 Edition

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Beef cartel is causing the crisis

• Farmers country-wide held a 48-hour protest outside meat factories

The Fine Gael/Labour Government is not prepared to take on the beef barons on behalf of the farmers who are on their knees this year

Sinn Féin Dáil Agriculture spokesperson Martin Ferris looks at the beef crisis and says the strength from unity of producers against the beef barons cannot be underestimated

THE BEEF CRISIS began earlier this year but has been building for years before that. The industry was being dominated by two main players and farmers began to realise that they had no guarantee that when they brought cattle to factories they could even recover their costs in finishing them.

Many farmers came to me or to other Sinn Féin elected representatives at agricultural shows over the summer, at meetings and anywhere that people gathered to tell me that beef farmers were in crisis.

The amount of technicalities which were used to penalise farmers and reduce the prices offered for cattle was growing. Farmers were not only in dire financial straits but they were frustrated by the lack of Government action to defend them against disaster.

In the summer, Sinn Féin took the initiative to meet the managers of the livestock marts to discuss the crisis caused by beef labelling with them.

As a result of the meeting, Sinn Féin MLA Michelle O’Neill, who is Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in the North, met with the Dublin Government Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to try to resolve the issue.

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• Dublin Government Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney

Their difficulty in finding agreement can be traced to the beef processors’ cartel which will do everything to maintain the conditions that have seen the farmers getting lower prices. A side-effect of this policy is that the livestock marts all over the country have seen a big drop in sales, with the cattle dealers from the North becoming cautious about buying in the South due to the factories’ attitude to so-called “nomad” cattle.

However, work on the labelling issue is still going on and involves negotiations with the big supermarkets and the beef factories. Sinn Féin supports an all-Ireland label for Irish beef. The way the factories and retailers are making a distinction between cattle born in the South and slaughtered in the North and those born and slaughtered in the North is no more than an excuse to screw beef farmers.

As one farmer said to me: 

“Do you see the difference between a calf born in Cavan and a calf born in Fermanagh? Do you see the beef they produce in different boxes, coming out of the factories? You do not.”

He was right. The price differential between North and South is not justified by anything other than the beef barons’ greed and their ability to fix a price to suit them by imposing specifications and conditions which, in reality mean nothing in the finished product.

The Fine Gael/Labour Government is not prepared to take on the beef barons on behalf of the farmers who are on their knees this year. 

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 Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in the North, Michelle O’Neill MLA, Sinn Féin 

Sinn Féin supported the action of the farm organisations in picketing the beef factories twice in the last month, but there is more than picketing needed. The concessions won during the negotiations in mid-November are welcome but they are short-term and not enough to reassure farmers that the crisis is over or that they have regained any real control of their industry.

Minister Coveney has to use his influence to ensure that Irish farmers are treated like their counterparts in other parts of the European Union. 

We find that the Department of Agriculture bends over backwards to implement every single rule and regulation imposed by Brussels but when it comes to demanding the same price or conditions for Irish farmers, Minister Coveney will not stand up and fight.

As Sinn Féin’s Agriculture spokesperson in the Dáil, I am concerned about the number of farmers who are getting out of beef altogether after their experience this year. A weakening of the beef sector is detrimental to Irish agriculture.

Instead of letting the beef barons call the shots and drive more farmers out of beef, the minister should be nurturing beef farmers so that they are ready to sell the best-quality product in the world to the new markets opening up in Asia.

It is not rocket science to recognise that Irish agricultural produce with its justified reputation for being clean, green and free of GMO has a huge potential for development into a thriving and profitable agri-food sector which will see not only prosperity for our people in rural Ireland but also preserve a way of life which is important to us as a nation.

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Sinn Féin TD, Martin Ferris speaking in Brussels

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