Opinion

At last, Coveney takes the meat plants to task

Trust has broken down between the factories and Irish beef farmers. This is a clear fact, alluded to in today’s call by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney for the meat plants to be more transparent in the way they do business with finishers.

But the reality is that such calls will fall on deaf ears unless they are backed up by some form of legislation/regulation that forces the factories to do exactly this. It is not within the gift of the Minister to appoint a Beef Regulator in Ireland that can take a big stick to the UK supermarkets. But surely Minister Coveney can introduce some formal process of arbitration which the meat plants must follow when it comes to changing carcass specifications and their trading relations with farmers? And if this means appointing some form of Regulator, so be it.

We have had a number of industrial disputes in Ireland recently, where the unions and the other parties involved had no option but to take the matters under dispute through an agreed arbitration process.

Farmers cannot strike for obvious reasons. Milk is a very perishable product and beef cattle, within reason, must be sold when they are fit for market: ditto sheep, pigs and poultry. So, on that basis, there is an even greater justification for primary producers to have some official means of getting fair play when it comes to dealing with the processing industry.

What’s more, farmers are – for the most part – small businessmen with little or no clout when it comes to dealing with the multi nation beef conglomerates that now run the redmeat processing sector in Ireland. David may have slayed Goliath back in biblical times, but that was definitely a one-off event that will not be repeated in the twenty first century.

Earlier this week, the UK meat processors agreed to a process whereby they will provide longer lead in periods to carcass specification alterations, but refused point blank to prior negotiations with farm lobby groups on the need for changes in the first place. No doubt, their colleagues in this side of the Irish Sea may well try this approach in response to the comments made by Minister Coveney.

If this is the case, then they should be told to take a run and jump in the clearest possible terms. The fact remains that a visitor from Mars could go on to the worldwide web and, within a few short minutes, find chapter and verse on every cost incurred by beef farmers the length and breadth of Ireland. And the same principle holds for the prices producers receive for their stock. Unfortunately, the factories have been allowed – up to now – to operate in a world where they have complete control over what information they make public regarding the running of their businesses. This has to stop.

Please be considerate of others when commenting. All comments posted are subject to our commenting policy. Comments violating this policy will be removed without notice.