The harsh reality of the challenges faced by the beef sector have been highlighted in a new report for the EU Agriculture Committee, Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness has said.

This study is an attempt to address the beef challenges in Europe, especially France and Ireland, and how dairy expansion impacts on the beef sector, she said.

The report offers three policy options for the future of the sector; (1) a grazing premium for beef and suckler cows, (2) market transparency and market information initiatives and (3) product differentiation and institutional export promotion.

Option one would see a scheme introduced to support the sector, which could be a grazing premium either for cattle in general or limited to beef and suckler cows.

Such support could be defined by the production technology of letting the animals graze outside on meadows for a minimum period per year, according to the report.

Such a premium would be an additional Voluntary Coupled Support measure, continuing the logic of the current (2014-2020) CAP that farmers need “to maintain an agricultural area in a state suitable for grazing and/or cultivation”.

On policy one, McGuinness said that the EU has moved away from coupled payments but there is division in Ireland on the issue.

“Some farming organisations want coupled payments for the sector, while some want a reduction in beef production. There’s no agreement from the farm organisations on this.”

Meanwhile, on the other two policy options, she said that option two is already really in play. It’s not exactly new and policy option three mentions promoting beef exports, which the Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, is doing already.

The report also highlights that EU estimates show that, on average, about 70% of the income of dairy farmers is reliant on CAP payments. For beef, this number is even higher than 100%.

These percentages reflect that without such payments, farm income would not only be much lower, but also even negative, according to the report.

On this aspect of the report, McGuinness said that it has examined a sector which has difficulties and addresses the fact there there’s a lot of debate out there on whether it is viable to continue the sector where it’s income is subsidised.

“Is it a sustainable model for the future? It (the beef sector) has to be part of the CAP discussion.

“Some have suggested finding another model to support the sector, as its only method of survival is the Single Farm Payment.

“Farmers are questioning if the system is sustainable. The sector has huge challenges, with the biggest challenge being economic sustainability, in particular its reliance on EU monies.”