Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy has written to Minister Charlie McConalogue requesting that the Department of Agriculture carry out a “comprehensive analysis” of the impacts of ‘factory-owned feedlots’ in the market, including their impact on prices and the effect on the environment.

The party spokesperson on agriculture has suggested that what he calls a “dramatic increase in factory feedlots” in recent years could be linked to “poor beef prices farmers receive”.

There is no legal definition of a feedlot herd and the department defines certain herds as Controlled Finishing Units (CFUs) in the context of the Bovine TB eradication programme.

In response to a parliamentary question in recent months, it was revealed to deputy Carthy that the number of slaughtered cattle at CFUs had increased between 2015 and 2020. 

Factory-owned feedlots ‘present an existential threat’

“Unfortunately, the government [has] never carried out a comprehensive analysis of the element in meat production, including its impact on prices and its environmental affects,” deputy Carthy said.

“The continued growth of factory feedlots presents an existential threat to the Irish beef product. Consumers all over the world purchase Irish beef on the back of the image of the farmer in the field alongside their cows and calves. 

“But, if the proportion of beef being produced in this country coming from factory feedlots continues to grow then so too will that image. 

“By its very nature, beef produced through this style of more industrialised agriculture is less environmentally sustainable. 

“I have written to Minister Charlie McConalogue requesting that his department carry out a comprehensive analysis of factory feedlot production to include its impact on prices, effect on the environment and its potential to undermine the marketing of Irish beef into the future.”

Based on provisional figures for 2020, there were 299,000 animals slaughtered in EU approved plants, originating from TB restricted CFUs, which made up 15.91% of the total state kill.

In 2019, there were 288,500 CFU animals slaughtered; 295,000 in 2018; 263,000 in 2017; 238,000 in 2016; and 198,000 in 2015.