Irish beef factories operate their specifications like “goalposts mounted on wheels” according to the Chairperson of ICMSA’s Livestock Committee, Michael Guinan.

He said that the ongoing problems farmers are having in certain beef factories when they sell animals and are being penalised on weight and other limits merely reinforces the conviction long-held by farmers that certain factories change the requirements as they go along.

“As soon as you strike the ball at where the posts are currently positioned, or where they were set up originally, then the beef factories run on to the pitch and wheel them over to a new spot and you’ve to line yourself up to all over again.”

Guinan said that we are getting to the stage where cattle have to be produced to such a strict specification that our system of grass-based beef will be of absolutely no advantage to us.

“The meat plants will have to face the reality that the majority of our beef will come from dairy herd going forward and in this regard, we need to review the beef grid and its associated age, weight and QA restrictions to reflect that reality.

“In exactly the same way as our milk production, our beef is also based on grass and we simply cannot be expected to mirror the exactness of an indoor, grain-fed, system nor,  in ICMSA’s opinion, should we strive to do so.”

Guinan also said that despite the work of well-intentioned intermediaries, farmers are back yet again with the same problems, which he says, are due to the failure of a number of parties to deliver on the commitments given at the Beef Forum.

“For instance, it is a matter of record that a commitment was given in November 2014 to review the Beef Grid. That has never happened and that is one of the main reasons why we have this draining-away of confidence in beef production: we never seem to see the fundamental problems being faced up to and addressed.”

He said what has happened since are a number of temporary respites, occasional period where prices firm up slightly giving farmers a little hope that the situation has changed, till, inevitably, the factories get a chance to pull the price and wipe out any return for the farmers.

“The very first day the Grid was introduced ICMSA said it was biased against the farmers and would, over time, undermine farmers negotiating position and that is exactly what has happened.”

ICMSA President, John Comer, he said has stated repeatedly at the Beef Forum that the starting position in the long overdue effort to renegotiate the relationship between the farmers producing the beef and the factories buying the cattle must be a review of the grid that tests it against the claims that were made for it on the first day it was introduced.

“It has failed farmers and it was always going to fail farmers from that very first day.”