The week after the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine called for calm among the stakeholders in the beef industry, the IFA has sanctioned further action in the form of a 48-hour strike from Sunday night.
It comes after it staged a 24-hour protest outside the country’s meat factories. However, the 24-hour protest was, in reality, less than that. It started on a Bank Holiday Monday at 3pm and continued through to the Tuesday 3pm, thus only affecting the factories for just over half a working day.
The meat factories knew well in advance about the protest and were able to plan in advance to ensure they would not be short on supply. Questions also need to be asked who exactly was protesting outside factory gates. It seems that dairy and sheep farmers make up a significant number of the farmers present.
Eddie Downey’s recent appearance on Primetime failed to impress many. Indeed, Ciaran Fitzgerald of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) had the upper hand in the debate and made it obvious that the IFA had just one line to tout – that Irish beef is making less than beef in the UK factories.
But that’s too simple a fact. The fact that Irish beef is making less than its equivalent in the UK is just one issue for Irish beef producers. The supermarkets say the demand among consumers in the UK is for British beef and it’s only right that UK consumers would want to buy British beef. Don’t we do the same here in Ireland – encourage Irish people to buy Irish? Just last week a survey in the UK found that 87% of parents believe at least half of school dinner food should be using UK food.
Regardless, the questions and answers around the viability of Irish beef producers are more complex. Not enough Irish beef is marketed as prime product. Far too much is sold as the cheapest option on supermarket shelves – mince. Further promotion, be it by Bord Bia or the meat processors, is needed to promote Irish beef as the most sustainable, flavoursome and quality assured beef on the market – in Ireland, Europe and the world.
New markets also need to be explored – be it the US or China. The branding of Irish beef should be able to reach consumers worldwide. Keeping within a stagnant European market is not helping the bottom line for farmers.
Only when we’ve developed a beef brand and pushed it out worldwide, can Irish beef farmers expect a premium return of their product.
Meanwhile, the IFA’s latest protest may do more to aggravate the processors and Minister for Agriculture and possibly beef farmers. It’s time some proactive moves were initiated instead of the usual reactionary ones.