A private members motion being tabled this week on establishing an independent regulator for the beef sector is “a real chance” for politicians to support farmers.

Tomorrow (Wednesday, May 26), the Rural Independent Group will bring forward the motion which, among other things, calls on the government to:

  • “Recognise that the continuing centrality of the beef sector to the rural economy, and its role in generating fair farm incomes, requires a new and imaginative approach”;
  • “Accept that existing regulatory and competition protections have proven themselves to be manifestly inadequate”;
  • “Ensure, in the interests of maintaining a level playing field, that should the EU-Mercosur trade deal be ratified by the EU, Mercosur beef sold into the EU must be produced under the same standards, regulations and controls as those imposed on EU beef producers”;
  • “Act on the acknowledgement in the Programme for Government of the important and unique role that the suckler sector plays in the beef industry by committing, in consultation with suckler farmers and their representatives, to the establishment of an independent beef regulator”;
  • “Empower the independent beef regulator to address, through statutory measures, the structurally embedded power imbalance created by the de facto monopoly of existing processors and retailers”.

Speaking to Agriland ahead of tomorrow, leader of the Rural Independent Group Mattie McGrath said that there has been “no motivation” over “the last 40 years” to regulate the beef industry.

Beef regulator ‘with teeth’

“I’ve seen incremental takeover of the small plants, they were just gobbled; I think it’s disgusting the way things are operating now,” Tipperary TD McGrath said.

“The ordinary family farm is being wiped out; and they are the people who produce the beef based on grass that we advertise all over the world. We’re so proud of it and rightly so but it doesn’t reflect the feedlots and intensive feeding indoors.

“We want an independent regulator with teeth and who is fearless.”

The deputy said that the beef industry has significant “pull”, leading to little appetite existing among policymakers to change things.

“The treatment of workers and prices are no longer the main focuses for these factories,” the deputy continued.

Assure the farmers who they are supporting

“Farmers were forced to go outside the factories for weeks on end because of this. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil politicians turned up to protests to support the farmers, but now they have a real chance to support them.

“They can support our motion and speak and vote in favour of it, and assure the farmers on the ground who they are supporting – are they in with the moguls or are they on the side of the farmers?

“Government responses are inadequate to this; there’s too much power in this industry and all we want is the recalibration of the prices – a fair price for a fair animal.

“These farmers up at 3:00a.m in the morning calving and rearing and trying to deal with the weather we have – they want a fair price and a bit of respect for what they’re doing.”

National Food Ombudsman

Tomorrow, the public consultation on the primary legislation needed to establish a new Office of a National Food Ombudsman or regulator closes.

The new office will have a role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said he wants the national food ombudsman to “bring a greater level of transparency to all parts of the supply chain”.

However, the rural independents in their motion are calling on the government to “accept that a national food ombudsman will not be able to give the kind of specific sectoral focus needed to identify and address the chronic price challenges imposed on farmers by the beef industry”.