At the beef industry round table discussions last week, ICOS National Marts called on the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney to engage immediately with his counterpart in Northern Ireland Minister Michelle O’Neill to work on creating an area of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Irish beef, which would also allow unrestricted free trade between the jurisdictions north and south on the island of Ireland.

The ICOS proposal follows from its recent EU submissions that Irish meat factories are subverting the free trade of livestock between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland and into the UK. ICOS has alleged that meat factories are controlling and manipulating pricing and they are actively discriminating against livestock marts.

The creation of a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for Irish quality assured beef would prevent this anti-competitive practice, it says. Like a trademark, the PGI helps consumers know they are buying the ‘genuine article’ and would provide legal protection around the quality, provenance and reputation of beef produced on the island. It would also protect the status of mart traded cattle as naturally and sustainably produced Irish livestock, specific to the island, adding further value to Irish produced beef.

ICOS recently called for an end to the onerous conditions imposed by meat plants around the movement of livestock, which have no basis in terms of regulation or quality and no justification on animal welfare or veterinary grounds. These measures discriminate against livestock marts which provide the only modern day competition to the meat factories.

ICOS called for an end to the so called factory ‘bonus system’  which penalises more than four movements of livestock between farms prior to slaughter. This penalty hinders trade and distorts full and free competition for livestock, it says.

Michael Spellman, Chairman of ICOs National Marts Committee said: “The outcome from the beef roundtable must support the viability of the beef sector and this must include a level playing pitch for all beef farmers.  It is common practice, while adhering fully to all animal transfer and traceability regulations, for an animal to be sold from farm to farm as it moves from youth through fattening and onto slaughter. This trade takes place primarily through the marts. However, through their ‘conditions’, the factories are interfering with the free trade of cattle in livestock marts.”

ICOS also called for an independent survey on consumer perceptions to challenge the supposed quality criteria of the factories and retailers which do not form part of actual consumer sentiment towards beef. Instead of cattle movements, consumers would rather know specifically that an animal has been well cared for, that the meat is fully traceable and that it has provided a fair deal for producers. This is already well provided for under the consumer branded Bord Bia Beef Quality Assurance Scheme and its equivalent in Northern Ireland (the NI Beef & Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme).