Meat factory concessions are long overdue, with processors accused of having “subverted fair competition for livestock and distorted trade” by the Irish Cooperative Organisation Society (ICOS).

The cooperative representative group is participating on behalf of the co-op marts in the beef industry talks taking place at Backweston between farmers, factories and officials from the Department of Agriculture.

In a hard-hitting statement, the group highlighted that, despite call outs to the meat industry for years for its practices in relation to the Quality Payment System and its “unreasonable restrictions on animal movements which are used to penalise farmers”, it took a major market downturn and direct suffering among beef farmers to bring factories to the table.

“Current measures by the factories radically exceed the provisions of the Bord Bia Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme which allows for movements between quality assured farms during the final 70-day period prior to slaughter,” the statement says.

These practices stop free trade in animals even though the livestock are compliant with the relevant regulations in Ireland and the UK.

“This has subverted fair competition for livestock and has distorted trade and pricing in Ireland and the UK.

“Through their ‘conditions’, the factories discriminate against livestock marts where they have effectively removed the trade in factory fit animals from the marts.

The so-called ‘quality standards’ force farmers to forego selling through the marts system – which has served to undermine free trade and proper price transparency.

ICOS also accused Irish factories of developing very large feedlots capable of a throughput of tens of thousands of animals.

This, the cooperative association says, gives processors the capacity to increase supply at times of peak demand and to dampen market prices.

The organisation pointed out that farmers are also victim to a number of “contradictions and anomalies”, citing the launch of the Beef Emergency Aid Measure (BEAM) at the same time as calls for a reduction in the national suckler herd as part of climate action efforts.

Meanwhile, inefficiently produced Brazilian beef gains market access at a time when there is unconfined felling of the rainforests in that country.

Including the prospect of a no-deal Brexit and the “stranglehold” of the market by the processors, ICOS described the current farmers’ lot as “the perfect storm”.

“The co-operative marts enable free trade between farmers on a transparent basis, with guaranteed payment, and they help to maximise the value of livestock sales and products.

“The entire establishment including the EU, the Government and the meat industry must now act ever more strongly to enable market supports, to maximise prices for farmers and to ensure the future viability of the quality Irish beef sector,” the ICOS statement concluded.