The Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney must get tough with the meat factories, if the Beef Forum is to become something more than a talking shop, according to ICSA General Secretary Eddie Punch.

“The reality is that the current beef crisis has been caused by a number of systemic flaws within the beef sector that must be addressed now, irrespective of how the markets respond over the coming months,” he said.

“Chief among these is the plants’ insistence on changing carcass specification without warning and refusing to enter into negotiations with the other stakeholder groups on this crucially important matter.”

He said that a case in point is the 30-month age limitation on steers and heifers. “With so many of our calves born in the spring of the year, large numbers of beef farmers will be panicking to get stock away to the factories for fear of being penalised with over age cattle over the next few weeks. All this does is make Irish farmers weak sellers, which suits the plants down to the ground.

“The factories have been telling us for ages that they are simply reflecting the requirements of their supermarket customers and they, in turn, the views of the general public. Simon Coveney should at the very least, ask the meat plants and the retailers to produce the independent market research which proves this assertion.”

The other downside, he said, to the 30-month requirement is that it forces farmers to feed high levels of meal to their finishing cattle. “This is totally contrary to the green image of Irish beef that has been promoted by organisations such as Bord Bía.

“The Beef Forum should also include representation from the retailers. The problems within the livestock sector will only be resolved, once all of the key players are sitting around the same table. These are the producer groups, the meat plants and the retailers.”