Opinion

More questions than answers at beef meeting

The anger at the IFA beef meeting in Navan was palpable from the outset and farmers began to leave in despair at what they were hearing from early on.

As the meeting progressed, the level of anger grew and grew and erupted after the Bord Bia presentation. Clearly, Joe Burke had no grasp of the mood of the farmers in the room and continued presenting his facts about Bord Bia’s chef’s club in Europe, five-year projections for beef consumption and joked about celebrity chef Nigella Lawson.

This was not what farmers had come to hear and they let him know this in no uncertain terms. They wanted to know why the price they have been paid for beef has fallen to the point that it’s not making sense for most of them to produce beef?

If this is the grasp that Bord Bia has on the mood among beef producers in Ireland at present, then it needs to take a long, hard look at its role.

The IFA said it’s doing all it can for beef farmers, yet has done a poor job of publicising the meetings. I had trouble finding details of the rest of the meetings and wonder how farmers are expected to know about them. Yet, it had a number of leaflets on the seats for farmers in Navan to read about the good work it is doing on their behalf. The leaflets ended up being waved back at the IFA by farmers who stood up and voiced their anger towards the top table.

IFA President Eddie Downey, too, lost his temper on a number of occasions with some of the more vocal farmers, as did IFA Livestock Chairman Henry Burns. Farmers were in no mood to hear that he too has lost money this year. No amount of ‘we understand this in IFA’ or ‘my bank account is not better than yours’ was going to do much to soothe the level of anger out there.

Approximately 200 farmers were at the meeting and some 20 left, even with IFA President Eddie Downey pleading with some of them individually not to walk out. It was a sad sight to see and hear farmers, who have farmed for years, be so angry and disappointed with the IFA leadership and get up and walk out, many without saying a word although others were very vocal is their dissatisfaction at the meeting.

During the ‘private’ farmers meeting, which the media were asked to leave for, sources say the IFA denied that substantial amounts of Polish meat imports are coming into Ireland, which is being claimed by some farmers. The IFA also denied claims by farmers that factories collecting its levy is impeding the organisation in its dealings with the meat factories.

Eddie Downey told the public meeting that the IFA has worked very hard to deal with the crisis. He said the organisation was very quick to go to London to stop an NFU protest that would have revolved around the public dumping of Irish beef. “Thats the type of influence we can have and we do have influence,” he said.

However, the organisation takes a much softer approach when it comes to addressing the role of the factories. It continues to see no issue with the fact that the meat factories collect levies on its behalf. Has the IFA asked farmers for permission to continue collecting these levies or indeed to collect them in the first place?

None of the main factories were represented at the meeting. However, their role must also be looked at, including the cut they and the retailers receive of the end product, in comparison to farmers.

The IFA must realise that farmers are not happy with the beef situation and the organisation’s response to it. It is the largest farmer organisation in the country and its leaders must see after last night’s meeting that its policies to date, on the beef crisis, are not working for farmers.

Farmers have never looked to have had less influence over their destiny and that needs to change.

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