‘4 movement rule must be declared invalid’ – Beef Plan Movement

Beef farmers have reacted furiously to the acknowledgment that the controversial four movement rule of livestock is a “purely private arrangement” between the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) and Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

Last Thursday (February 14), in response to a parliamentary question from independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae – who asked for the four movement rule to be removed – the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, washed his hands, and the hands of his department, of any responsibility for the restriction on the movement of livestock between farms prior to slaughter.

Steers and heifers grading within the shaded area are paid an extra 12c/kg if they are quality-assured and under 30 months old at slaughter.

Quality-assured cattle must be on the farms for at least 70 days before slaughter and must not have moved more than three times in their lifetime (i.e. four farm residencies).

Those who exceed this limit lose their Quality Assurance (QA) Bonus.

‘Private arrangement’

Until now, farmers have been of the view that the rule – in place for consumer driven quality and animal welfare reasons – had been established by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

However, this is not the case.

In a written response to deputy Healy-Rae, Minister Creed said: “A Quality Payment System (QPS) for the payment of bonuses in respect of certain categories of cattle at slaughter plants was introduced in 2009 by agreement between MII and the IFA.

“My understanding is that the conditions attached to qualification for this bonus payment include a limit on the number of movements of cattle in their lifetime prior to slaughter.

This is a purely private arrangement between both parties and my department has no role in its design or implementation.

Eamon Corley, chairperson and spokesperson for the Beef Plan Movement, said “every beef farmer in the country will be disappointed” by the admission.

“At our Beef Plan meeting in Castleisland, Co. Kerry on February 4, the four TDs present took a copy of the anti-competitive practices which the Beef Plan outlined at the meeting as being partly responsible for taking away competition in our beef industry.

“They all promised to highlight these issues in the Dail and work for our farmers who are involved in this movement.

“Last week, Michael Healy-Rae questioned Minister Creed in the Dail on the four movement rule. The minister’s reply was that this rule was a private agreement between the IFA and Meat Industry Ireland.

“It is fair to say that every beef farmer in the country will be disappointed to learn that the IFA – as a body that claims to also represent beef farmers – has in fact been proven to collude with Meat Industry Ireland to introduce an anti-competitive practice.

This one anti-competitive practice has resulted in several financial losses for this country’s beef farmers.

“It is unfortunate that this secret has remained hidden for 10 years, with many farmers believing that it was in fact a department requirement – especially as the movements have been displayed on all mart boards around the country,” said Corley.

‘Declared invalid’

The Beef Plan Movement – which currently claims to have more than 17,000 members – is now calling for the decade-old agreement to be “declared invalid”.

“How many more secrets are in the closet? The IFA did not have the authority to agree to an anti-competitive practice, such as this, without the consent of this country’s beef farmers – which they did not get.

In fact they have hidden for 10 years their involvement in this. With this knowledge now available this agreement must be declared invalid.

Corley highlighted how, since the inception of the movement last October, some agri commentators have questioned the need for the establishment of another farm lobby group – there are now eight such groups across all sectors nationwide.

“Recently the question has been posed: ‘Do farmers need another farm organisation?’ It should now be blatantly obvious to all beef farmers that they do. The Beef Plan Movement is now beginning to bear fruit.

“As farmers we need to learn from our experiences. We hope that farmers will now see the need to get behind this movement, whose main aim is to bring competition back into the beef industry,” he said.