Meat Industry Ireland (MII) the representative body for meat processors in Ireland has condemned the IFA factory blockade as misguided and counterproductive.

The meat industry has questioned the timing of the action being taken by the IFA as its says cattle prices are strengthening and the trend from the market is positive.

In a statement the Chairman of MII Ciaran Fitzgerald said that the blockade will only disrupt business, damage Ireland’s reputation with customers and ultimately will not impact EU beef market prices.

“While Irish cattle prices have been weaker this year (down 10-12% from the record high levels of 2013), prices across the entire EU have been reduced. This is a direct result of a significant drop in EU beef consumption, which has fallen by 700,000 tonnes since 2010. Moreover Irish beef production is up 15% year on year so we are selling an additional 75,000 tonnes of beef into a market where consumption has fallen dramatically during the Economic recession. Exports in 2014 will exceed €2bn in value, repeating the record levels achieved in 2013.

“In the last 10 years, Irish cattle prices have increased from approximately 92% of the EU average to currently 100% of the EU average. Given that Ireland exports 500,000 tonnes of beef into these EU markets, this is a strong performance.

“The Beef Roundtable, set up by Minister Coveney earlier on in the year, is the appropriate place to engage on issues of importance to the sector, not the factory gate. Senior meat industry members have offered, through MII, to meet with IFA representatives however the IFA have refused to attend such meetings.”

The MII statement also said that the continued focus on the comparison of the Irish price with that of the R3 steer in GB is over-simplistic, inappropriate and wholly misleading.

It said the independent Dowling report (June 2014) into the beef sector confirmed that price comparisons, simply on the basis of the R3 steer, were not appropriate as the “level of access to the premium retail market in the UK is not the same for both sides”. Using more market relevant benchmarks indicates that Irish beef prices are very much in line with comparable EU prices, MII says.

It goes on to say that while output prices are obviously important, they are not the sole determinant of farm profitability. IT says the IFA have continuously refused to engage in terms of on-farm efficiency, input costs and farm profitability.

“A refusal to focus on input costs and efficiency means that the key elements affecting farm incomes for beef farmers are not being addressed. MII members will not be scapegoated for the refusal of other stakeholders to focus on these areas. For example, 2013 saw a year of record high cattle prices, yet farm profitability declined. Clearly this highlights that profitability is influenced by many factors and not just price.”

According to Fitzgerald, the Irish beef processing sector has developed a good market and customer platform for Irish beef. He said this disruptive action, which will also impact on lamb processors, is totally unacceptable. It will hinder orderly marketing and supply to customers. “This is a fresh food business and such disruption will damage reputations and is counterproductive. The proposed action will do nothing to improve the returns from the marketplace.”