Beef taskforce urged to address ‘imminent’ Brexit threat and defer PGI decision

President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) Edmond Phelan has said the potential fallout from Brexit must be top of the agenda when the Beef Market Taskforce meets this week.

“We are three months away from potential Armageddon and farmers simply cannot be expected to fill sheds with cattle in the coming weeks when there is unprecedented risk attached to this in light of Brexit uncertainty,” he said.

The ICSA wants to see this week’s beef taskforce focus in-depth on the Brexit risks.

The association also wants the decision on Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for ‘Irish grass-fed beef’ deferred pending further negotiations.

Phelan added: “This is the biggest threat to the future of our sector and it must be treated as urgent. The risk of tariffs being imposed on Irish beef exports to the UK from January onwards is very real.

The potential for disastrous losses is manifest and turning a blind eye to this risk is unacceptable.

The ICSA is urging Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue to demand that individual processors appear at the taskforce meeting.

“Processors can no longer be allowed to hide behind Meat Industry Ireland (MII); they need to be at the table engaging with primary producers in an open manner,” said Phelan.

“Beef finishers around the country won’t fill their sheds unless some kind of stability is afforded to them, and we need to hear what processors have to offer.

It is unacceptable that beef finishers should be expected to absorb all of the risk at this critical time.

“Every effort must also be made by the Irish government and the EU to ensure that primary producers here are protected. The EU has set aside a €5 billion Brexit fund and securing the lion’s share of that for Ireland – as the country most impacted by Brexit – must be a top priority.

“The amount will need to be equivalent to the cost of tariffs on an annual basis and ongoing basis. Beef imports from outside the EU must be suspended in the event of no deal between the EU and UK,” he added.

The ICSA has said that a minimalistic trade deal may be able to be “pulled together” but that the “stakes are now too high” for burying heads in the sand.

PGI deferral

The ICSA wants the PGI application for ‘Irish grass-fed beef’ to be deferred pending further negotiations.

“ICSA had a virtual meeting with department officials where we reiterated our position that the PGI status should be part of a bigger strategy to brand suckler beef as a premium product,” said Phelan.

“ICSA also expressed concern about ownership and governance relating to the PGI application. Any PGI designation must be for the benefit of the primary producer and its management must be overseen by a board where farmers’ interests are protected,” he concluded.