Letter to the editor: ‘In-spec’ requirements for cattle; right now we have no control; no say; and no choice

I am writing to you to express my concern about the Beef Taskforce’s most recent update, which was published on the Department of Agriculture’s website.

In particular, I have concerns about the Grant Thornton report on ‘in-spec’ requirements for finished cattle.

The big question here is: Did Grant Thornton carry out an analysis only of existing markets for Irish beef…or the potential marketplace as a whole?

If it’s the case that this report is based only on existing markets, then my worry is that it will not help to resolve problems facing beef producers. Why do we supply just those markets? Who picked those markets to be our ‘target’ markets? Primary producers – the farmers – don’t seem to have a say.

Meanwhile, Government strategies for the agri-food sector – namely ‘Pathways for Growth’ and ‘Food Harvest 2020’ – that are implemented by bodies such as Bord Bia encourage processors to ‘co-operate’.

These strategies promote ‘collaboration’ between processors and retailers. When dominant players here and in the UK are instructed to ‘collaborate’, would this explain why so much of our beef exports end up in the UK? Is this why ‘in-spec’ requirements are the way they are?

‘In-spec’ requirements

To get a true picture of what ‘in-spec’ requirements should actually be, perhaps we should look at all global markets – to see what other markets actually require.

A consumer study should also be carried out in our existing [export] markets, to see what consumers want rather than what retailers supposedly want. Hopefully, that report would include a thorough analysis – in all areas of all markets – to give primary producers [farmers] the answers that we deserve.

Handful of beef markets?

Perhaps it will show us the options that are out there; we shouldn’t be limited to just a handful of markets.

The prevailing ‘in-spec’ requirements shouldn’t serve as the criteria for all cattle presented for slaughter, if all markets don’t actually require these criteria. Until these questions are answered, farmers will have no control; no say; and no choice.

From Pat Maher, beef farmer, Co. Kilkenny