COMMENT: The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) has been left with no option but to picket the meat plants tomorrow, given the disgraceful treatment meted out by the processors to farmers over the past few weeks.

Recent days have seen the factories throw out the term ‘non-spec cattle’ like confetti, using it as the ‘cover-all’ excuse for their decision to slash the price of young bulls.

Processors are quick to point to the UK supermarkets, blaming them for the fast worsening market conditions. The reality, however, is somewhat different.

In truth, the plants should have seen all this trouble coming at them ages ago. Dark-cutting beef has been flagged up as an issue with young bulls for the past two decades or more. It is caused by the animals becoming stressed in the run-up to slaughter. Given these circumstances, the question has to be asked: why have the plants not sought to identify more suitable slaughtering practises for bulls?

No doubt Bord Bía would have given the plants oodles of grant money to come up with a solution to this problem. And no doubt Enterprise Ireland would have chipped in as well, plus a host of other state-financed bodies, had they been approached.

The other galling reality of the current young bull debacle is that the fact that the redmeat plants do not have that far to look, in order to find an answer to the dark-cutting issue.

Twenty years ago the pig industry was forced to find a solution to the problem of ‘boar taint’, which – up to that time – was synonymous with the pork and bacon produced from entire pigs. At the end of the day it was pressure from farmers which brought about the desired response at factory level. Pig producers had become fully aware of the reality that castrating piglets merely served to restrict daily liveweight gains and that it was the job of the processors to find way of processing boars, which got round the ‘taint’ issue. The rest, as they say, is history.

Looking to the longer term, there must be a concern that the young bull issue could have a devastating impact in not allowing the beef sector reach its Harvest 2020 targets. And, given this possibility, there is every reason for Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to step in and establish a working group to sort this matter out – with immediate effect.

Of course, the cynic in me is quick to predict that come the month of May when finished cattle availability is at its lowest ebb, the plants won’t be too concerned about cattle being ‘in spec’ or not. At that stage it will be a numbers’ game only!