The appointment of a regulator in the beef sector would be a positive outcome of Thursday’s roundtable discussions on the future of the sector. 

This is according to Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) Chief Executive Eddie Punch, who said the market is not working at the present time and that both farmers and consumers are getting a ‘dreadful deal’.

“The reality is that beef prices in the shops have actually increased over the past two years while farmgate returns have plummeted. Regulators have been appointed in other sectors, energy being a case in point. And I see no reason why the same approach cannot be taken by government now, where beef is concerned.”

He also said that the meat processers’ insistence on a carcass specification that will heavily penalise cattle that kill out over 380 kilos will signal the death knell for suckler beef production in Ireland. “Under these circumstances, and given current beef prices, the maximum that could be obtained for a young bull reared in a suckler herd is €1,300. Moreover, this type of animal will require between one and one and a half tonne of meal in order to bring it through to final slaughter weight. So, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that there will not be enough money in the system to provide both the finisher and the suckler herd owner with a reasonable margin. And, of course, let’s not forget that suckler producers were simply responding to the prompts from the meat plants for them to breed the Charolais, Limousin and Belgian Blue stock, which are now  out of favour  – or so we are told – with consumers. “

ICSA is looking for the meeting to restore order in the sector. “Unless efficient producers can have confidence that there is a viable and stable business, there is no prospect of maintaining the suckler herd at its current level and exports of quality beef will decline significantly,” ICSA President Patrick Kent added

He described the current beef market for farmers as a wild west where farmers are at the mercy of all sorts of unscrupulous practices when it comes to buying their products. “This is a scenario where the sheriff has been out of town for too long and the lack of regulation is encouraging more and more gouging of farmers by the powerful elite who control processing and retailing. We have had numerous calls from farmers who have been paid as little as €3/kg for prime beef which did not qualify for the Quality Assurance. In cases, it was due to animals being a few days short of the residency requirement. This has nothing to do with consumer demands and everything to do with ripping off farmers and reducing the overall price paid for beef.”

He also said the Beef Quality Assurance Scheme has become discredited in the eyes of many farmers who see it as a stick to drive down price. “It’s bad enough that the base price has fallen from €4.30 to €3.95 in a relatively short period but behind that figure is the fact that many animals are being cut severely (to as little as €3/kg) for not meeting a rapidly tightening spec.”