ICSA Ireland, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, has slammed the whole structure of beef processing in Ireland and has described it as an ‘anti-competitive closed shop’, which has left beef farmers with a very unstable outlook.

In a statement to AgriLand, beef chairman Edmond Phelan said the extreme stress felt by family farms who are left holding bulls means that many will be likely to wind down their fattening operations in the coming years, with a knock-on effect on the suckler herd.

Phelan was especially critical of the anti-competitive element of Irish beef processing, which he claims is totally controlled and dominated by just three big processors who are also dominating UK processing.

He also pointed to the fact that beef processors are further undermining Irish farmers by using their own feedlots and contracted operators to ensure that price to farmers can be kept under control.

“It is particularly ironic that in the international year of the family farm, supermarkets seem to be happy to have factory-run feedlots supply beef while family farms go under.”

In addition Phelan said farmers were disillusioned with the beef quality assurance scheme.  “Many bull beef producers are quality assured. But many are questioning the point of it, when they get no bonus and now, they can’t even get cattle killed. Farmers are openly contemplating withdrawing from quality assurance if they don’t see retailers and processors dealing with the crisis.”

Phelan said that ICSA, as an association that gets no levy funding from factories, is demanding that both the factories and retailers come to the table to explain whether there is any point in maintaining the national suckler herd in its current format.

“At present, the only future for suckler producers is live exports. But we don’t have sufficient markets for the live export of the progeny of over one million suckler cows. The signal seems to be that the suckler herd needs to fall by half. I’d like to hear from retailers and processors if there is any reason why this should not happen.”