‘It’s the best deal 7 farm bodies combined could have achieved’ – Beef Plan Movement

After more than 30 hours of tough negotiations at round two of the beef sector reform talks the Beef Plan Movement is “satisfied” with the agreed two-strand deal.

Speaking to AgriLand on the margins of the final meeting between Meat Industry Ireland, seven farm organisations, state agencies and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed at Agriculture House in Dublin, Beef Plan’s lead negotiator Eoin Donnelly said he was “happy” with the outcome.

The agreement, reached this evening, Sunday, September 15, involves a number of interventions expected to provide immediate benefit for beef producers, as well as a range of strategic measures which seek to to address structural imbalances in the sector.

Beef producers are expected to benefit from an immediate increase in a range of bonuses, including:
  • An increase of 66% in the current in-spec bonus for steers and heifers from 12c/kg to 20c/kg;
  • The introduction of a new bonus of 8c/kg for steers and heifers aged between 30 to 36 months, which meet all non-age related existing in-spec criteria, and which up to now have not received any bonus;
  • As well as the introduction of a number of new bonuses and reforms.

It was also agreed that a new Beef Market Taskforce will be established to “provide leadership” to develop a sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector in terms of economic, environmental and social sustainability.

The taskforce will be independently chaired by an appointee of the minister, and will include department, relevant state agencies and nominees from farm organisations and the meat industry.

The taskforce is expected to provide a robust implementation structure for commitments entered into in the agreement, with timelines and stakeholder engagement.

Furthermore, it will offer a suitable platform for strategic engagement with key stakeholders including retailers, regulatory authorities etc.

Spec changes

Speaking to AgriLand, Donnelly said: “We were presented with a document by Minister Creed mid morning around 9:00am and we then went into a room as a group of farm bodies and we discussed a lot ourselves over two hours to align our position on each of the points.

“We had to try, for the first time in a considerable time, to get consensus across all of the organisations on the document.

“Together we put more pressure back on top of Minister Creed and on the department’s secretary general Brendan Gleeson to get further improvements on it, particularly in relation to the new 36-month retail spec bonus.

“There has been a considerable step up from 12c/kg to 20c/kg on the normal retail spec bonus – the big thing there is when we look at the original proposals that came through we went from 3c/kg up to 8c/kg on the 36-month retail spec bonus. Plus, we went from 16c/kg up to 20c/kg on the full retail spec bonus.

What it does is it gives the equivalent of getting rid of the 30-month limit – we’re three quarters of the way there.

“On top of that, we then went after the retail spec that was getting 12c/kg and we actually got that increased to 20c/kg – so we got a double win there is what I would consider,” he said.

However, Donnelly highlighted that the legitimacy of all the retail specs will still form part of an independent review process that has also been committed to under the agreement.

He added that this is “a priority” for the department and is expected to be completed before the end of the year.

He said that recent remarks made by Dr. Paddy Wall professor of public health at UCD where he frankly stated that there is “no scientific basis for the 30-month age limit to remain as a requirement for the slaughtering of beef in Ireland” were highlighted at the meeting.

“Dr. Paddy Wall’s comments will form an intricate part of the independent assessment as to the validity of the 30-month requirement to decide whether it is a spurious specification or whether it is indeed a true market requirement,” said Donnelly.

The Beef Plan western region chairman is confident that the combination of this agreement alongside the establishment of the country’s first beef producer organisation (PO) called Irish Beef Producers – which was given the green light by the department during the week – will strengthen the position of the farm in the supply chain.

“The next thing now is that we use our newly approved producer organisation to negotiate the price for farmers on the factory gates.

“Price could not be discussed at the talks so we focused on the mechanisms for the bonuses that are paid by the factories.

Yes, we believe between the agreement and the PO it will be enough to improve the farmers position.

“We are the only organisation now that can actually go to a factory gate and negotiate price on behalf of farmers and we intend to do that to the fullest extent.

“We are open for business now, if farmers want us to negotiate for the sale of cattle on their behalf we can do that now,” he said.

Picket lines

As for the next immediate step, the Beef Plan Movement will now go the factory picket lines to talk to farmers that are continuing to protest.

As part of the resolution of the dispute all parties have agreed that blockades and protests “will be removed immediately” and all parties to the agreement “will ensure” that this happens.

Thereafter, beef processors have committed to undertake that all legal proceedings against farm organisations and/or individual farmers will be withdrawn in relation to this matter.

The agreement will only enter into force following the cessation of all protests and blockades.

We have to emphasis to the farmers on the picket lines that we have accepted that this is the best deal that could be done for farmers at this time.

“We consider this a first step and that we will fully utilise the new taskforce which will comprise of members from each of the farm organisations in conjunction with other stakeholders to ensure that the commitments that have been made are delivered on.

“It’s the best deal that the combined efforts that seven farm representative bodies could have achieved and it is what we consider a significant first step for farmers to regain somewhat control of the beef industry in Ireland,” Donnelly concluded.