During Topical Questions to the DARD minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly earlier this week, (Traditional Unionist Voice) TUV leader Jim Allister alleged there was a price-fixing cartel in operation between the meat plants, designed to drive down prices. Quoting the synchronised move to cut prices for animals with more than four movements, as evidence of such collusion, he pressed the Minister as to what action she would take.
The Minister’s response was described by Mr Allister as disappointing, the furthest she went was to describe talk of price-fixing as “speculation”.
Commenting Jim Allister said:
“As the supposed champion of the farmers, the minister could and should do much better than operate as a mere spectator to the price-fixing that is going on under her nose and robbing beef producers of a fair price.”
Courtesy of her responses to Mr Allister, the Farm Minister said that the price farmers receive for their produce is a commercial matter and added that speculaltion regarding the operation of a cartel is just that.
Mr Allister then pressed home is point by asking the further question: Is it not patently obvious that there is a cartel, and is it not the case that synchronising over the action of reducing prices for cattle with more than four movements is an indication of that collusion between the meat plants, which is all directed at driving prices down? As champion for the agriculture industry, what does the Minister intend to do about that?
The Minister responded:
“We need to look at how we can grow the industry into the future. Pricing is one of many factors that impact on the farming community. I have always said that we need fairness in the supply chain. A farmer cannot be the person who is continually squeezed, but in this instance again, farmers are being continually squeezed. As we move forward, we need to be a strong voice, and we need to work together in challenging the meat processors and ensuring that farmers receive a fair price. The only way that we will have a sustainable agrifood sector into the future is if farmers are treated fairly in the supply chain. If we do not have fairness in the supply chain, the industry will be under threat for the future. I am committed to playing my role, which is why we have an industry/government strategic partnership and an agrifood strategy in place. It is why we are looking at and working together on all the issues that need to be addressed.”