‘Beef Plan’ and MII clash over factory-owned feedlot operations

A debate over the extent of specifically factory-owned feedlot operations in Ireland was heard across the national airwaves earlier today (Thursday, February 21).

The topic was thrashed out between Dermot O’Brien Kerry, chairman of the Beef Plan Movement and Cormac Healy, senior director at Meat Industry Ireland (MII) on RTE Radio 1 show ‘Today with Sean O’Rourke’.

Speaking first, O’Brien outlined how it is the view of the Beef Plan Movement that beef processors “have a monopoly” when it comes to the market place due to the “dominance” of “anti-competitive” practices within the food supply chain.

In particular, he highlighted beef farmer concerns around factory-owned feedlot operations and quality assurance measures – including the current controversy surrounding the four movement rule.

On the issue of factory-owned feedlots, O’Brien claimed that “up to 20% of cattle that are being sent to the factories at the minute are from factory-controlled feedlots”. He contended that this is a scenario which “controls supply”.

However, Healy quickly picked the beef farmer up on this figure contending instead that “less than 5%” of cattle slaughtered on factory floors originate specifically from factory-owned feedlots.

Our best understanding in relation to cattle that are processed by Irish meat processors is that less than 5% of those come from feedlots that are owned by the companies themselves, so it’s quite a small percentage of the overall mix.

“They have that there for security of supply at particular times of the year. The figure of 20% is inaccurate and it refers to a lot of herds out there that have feedlot status, as the Department of Agriculture would describe it, purely to facilitate their own trading relationships in terms of buying in and selling animals if they are restricted, if they fail a TB test, it’s there to facilitate them,” said Healy.

When asked about the diet mix at such department defined restricted feedlots, Healy said: “These animals are principally fed on silage. A herd can have feedlot status where animals are out grazing as well.”

‘Restricted feedlot’ operations

Last month AgriLand revealed that the number of department-defined (restricted) feedlots – whereby stock moved only to slaughter – has increased sixfold across the country over the last 10 years.

The figures, obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, show that these feedlots – which operate under restrictions in accordance with Ireland’s Bovine TB Eradication Programme for 2017 and 2018 – have increased from 52 in 2008 to 338 in 2018.

Under the TB programme a feedlot herd comprises a ‘non-breeding’ unit which disposes of all cattle direct for slaughter and fulfills at least one of the following three criteria: cattle are permanently housed (never on pasture); there are no adjoining holdings/lands with cattle; boundaries are walled, double fenced or equivalent to prevent any direct contact with cattle on neighbouring lands/premises/holdings.

Although grass can be included in the diet, the department also clearly outlines that if intending to graze, the land must be secured so there can be no contact with other cattle on neighbouring farms.

A further AgriLand analysis of other Department of Agriculture statistics also found that an estimated 315,722 cattle – originating from department-defined restricted feedlots – were slaughtered at department-approved beef exporting plants up to and including the week ending December 16, 2018.

This figure represents approximately 18% of the total national beef kill up to and including that date.

A further examination of this figure shows that an average of 6,314 cattle from such operations were killed each week between January and December last year.

Department-defined (restricted) feedlots (i.e. those that meet the aforementioned criteria) could include factory-owned, factory-contracted (but privately-owned) or independent farmer-owned feedlot operations.