The significant current beef price differential between the UK and Ireland was raised in the Dail by Fianna Fail, Agriculture Spokesman, Eamon O Cuiv.

He said a year ago, there was a huge concern in the beef industry about the price differential being achieved between British and Irish cattle on the British market.

“We had farmers outside the factory gates. Eventually, in response to this, the Minister set up the beef forum.

“A year on, to use an appropriate metaphor considering the Minister is in Africa, the beef forum has turned out to be a toothless tiger.”

O Cuiv said the forum has had no significant effect on the massive problems that beset the beef trade.

Significant allegations were made by a significant farming organisation during the week. It believes there is a conscious policy by one of the major meat groups that operates not only in this country but also in Britain to try to block the sale of young cattle for finishing in Britain by saying they could not be marketed in Britain as British and would, therefore, have to be significantly discounted,” he said.

O’Cuiv said when one looks at the price comparisons between this year and last year, it is significant that the British price of beef has increased by approximately 70c/kg while the equivalent Irish price has only increased by approximately 10-15c/kg.

“Last autumn, the price differential was 70c/kg. This year it is 110c/kg,” he said.

Government’s response

In response Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Paudie Coffey who was standing in for the Minister for Agriculture said the divergence in price between Ireland and Britain is a result of the exceptionally strong sterling exchange rates that have been in place for most of the year.

“It should be noted that, in sterling terms, prices paid to British farmers so far this year are broadly the same as previous years.

“In other words, British beef farmers are not gaining anymore for their output than last year.

“However, as already noted, Irish farmers are receiving prices on average 8% higher than last year and, therefore, the price difference has narrowed and not widened, if one removes the influence of currency fluctuations,” he said.

According to Coffey, it must always be remembered that comparisons between Irish and British beef prices have to take into account that we are both primarily selling into the British market where there is a consumer preference for their own British product.

“This preference for local product is true of almost every beef market in the world.

“This also means that there is pressure from the British beef sector on their retailers to prioritise their produce over imports from abroad, including our Irish beef. This is a significant competitiveness challenge for Irish beef which cannot be overlooked when comparing prices,” he said.

Coffey outlined that notwithstanding these challenges, the most up-to-date figures from the CSO show that this year, we have exported more than €100 million more beef to Great Britain compared to the same period last year.

“This is a prime example of the high esteem that Irish beef is held in and I would be confident that in the coming weeks, considering the seasonal trend, we will see sustained trade of beef to Britain,” he said.