EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has no direct jurisdiction over the competition practises followed by Irish beef processing businesses, according to Meat Industry Ireland (MII) Chairman Ciaran Fitzgerald.

“That’s a job for the relevant national competition authority. And in the case of Ireland’s export plants, a number of competition-related investigations have been carried out over recent years.

“And, in all cases, the meat industry has received a clean bill of health. In fact, this state-of-affairs was recently confirmed publically by Simon Coveney, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine,” he said.

He said he was aware of the public comments made this week by a number of MEPs regarding their intention to approach DG Competition in Brussels, in order to secure a formal investigation by the European Commission into their claims that Irish meat plants are operating a cartel.

“In reality, however, they are barking up the wrong tree, as investigations of this nature must be carried out at national level.

“These enquiries can be undertaken in a number of ways. In fact, there could well be investigations currently underway regarding the business practises of Irish meat plants. But, if that is the case, we may well not hear about it until the work carried out by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in Dublin has been completed.”

When asked to respond directly to the cartel allegations in the Irish beef industry, the MII Chairman said Irish beef prices rose consistently from 2009 through to 2013.

“During that period not one person made an allegation to the effect that the plants were operating a cartel. But of course all of that changed, once farmgate prices started to falter at the beginning of this year. The reality is that cartels do not do upward pricing. And, if everyone was happy to accept the principle that the plants were not conspiring against farmers while the market was strengthening, surely the same view should hold in current circumstances.”

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has said it will be seeking a meeting with the Commissioner to clarify his recent comments in relation to the ‘squeezing’ of Irish beef farmers, which they say ignore the reality of the European marketplace.