The European Union’s next trade commissioner, Phil Hogan, has welcomed the establishment of the country’s first beef producer organisation (PO) as a “positive first step” in addressing the beef crisis.

Speaking to AgriLand at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference in Kilkenny, the outgoing EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development suggested ways to progress the new Irish Beef Producers entity – which was officially recognised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine last week.

Under the cloud of factory-gate pickets and mounting pressure for the second round of beef sector reform talks to get underway, Commissioner Hogan also highlighted the wide disparity between Irish beef prices compared to the EU average.

“I have made my priority to try to improve the position of the farmer in the food chain and to help collective bargaining for farmers and producer groups to form.

I’m delighted to see producer groups being formed for the first time – this is positive; this should have been happening all along.

“Irish Beef Producers is a positive – maybe it could look at making it more regional. It doesn’t have to be one producer group for the entire country; there can be regional producer groups as well.

“I welcome the department and the Irish Beef Producers coming to the new arrangement.

“Unlike other sectors of the economy, agriculture has derogation and competition law that can allow all of this collective bargaining to take place – but of course they have to operate from a position of strength,” he said.

When asked why he believes it has taken so long for such POs for beef to be established in Ireland, the commissioner stated:

“This is a matter for the Department of Agriculture to answer, there is no reason why it couldn’t have happened sooner.

“Secondly, the gap between Irish beef prices and EU beef prices is a source of concern; but the solution to it has to come from within the member state.

People should be inquiring to know why is there is a 14c/kg gap between Irish beef prices and the continent.

“The dominance of certain players in the Irish market is of course a consideration.

“But we have to find the evidence that this is the case – and no one has brought forward that evidence yet to have it checked under competition law.”

Drop in red meat consumption

The commissioner agrees that a fundamental review of the beef sector is required.

However, he pointed out that a review of the sector is required under FoodWise 2025 and against the backdrop of new food-related issues emerging on climate and environment.

You can see the drop in consumption of red meat products among young people; this is having a serious impact right across Europe and it’s very hard to go against this particular trend at the moment.

“There is huge positive media towards the efforts of young people to do something about climate action and this is having a serious impact on the consumption of agricultural products – particularly red meat.

“Each member state has to engage with the stakeholders; but there is a lot of work to be done to deal with those new trends to see if we can draw up a plan that will be able to deal with these new trends because, at the end of the day, if the consumer is not eating the product you’re in trouble,” he said.