Meat factories are ‘increasingly manipulating the Irish livestock sector’

The Irish livestock farming sector is increasingly being manipulated by the meat factories, according to Ray Doyle of the Marts Division of the Irish Co-operative Organisation Society (ICOS).

A meeting of the European Co-op movement COPA-COGECA in Brussels yesterday (November 15) were told by ICOS how measures being enforced by Irish meat factories in their buying practices are subverting the free trade of cattle in Ireland, controlling prices and stifling competition.

Commenting on the issue, Doyle said: “Consumer protection is very important, but so too is producer protection where the Directorate-General for Competition needs to ensure protection for primary producers.

But we’re not seeing this in Ireland where our livestock farming sector is increasingly being manipulated by the Irish meat factories.

It was also outlined at the COPA-COGECA meeting that the Irish factory Quality Payment System (QPS) penalises more than four movements of livestock between farms prior to slaughter – seemingly for quality and animal welfare reasons, according to ICOS.

Cattle that have moved farms in the last 70 days prior to slaughter are also penalised and don’t qualify for a QPS bonus, even if all farms are quality assured under the provisions of the national Bord Bia Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme, it added.

This is in spite of the fact that the Bord Bia scheme allows for multiple movements between quality-assured farms before and during the final 70-day period prior to slaughter, the society explained.

‘A complete stranglehold’

Doyle is of the opinion that the factories have a “complete stranglehold” on the livestock industry in Ireland. During the meeting he also highlighted an anomaly where the Irish national Animal Identification and Movement System (AIM) is open to third parties to view and access all prior animal movement data.

“Other EU countries do not allow third parties to access all prior movement data, and for good reason. Enabling third parties to record information onto the AIM system is necessary and acceptable but the AIM data is being used in reverse by factories and retailers to penalise farmers based on the number of movements of their livestock.

This information should be restricted to the Department of Agriculture only, which was the originally intended purpose of the system as a method of monitoring cattle movements in the event of a disease outbreak.

“We would also welcome a review of AIM procedures as the new EU General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect in 2018.

“We in Ireland are promoting a green image abroad which relies on pasture-based production, and this advantage is underpinned by movements from farm to farm, as cattle move through their rearing and onwards towards higher levels of nutrition at maturity.

“AIM is used by hundreds of agents and dealers to properly record these movements; however, this is then misrepresented as a negative quality parameter by the factories who are using the AIM movement records as a trade distorting measure to pay lower prices,” Doyle said.

Discrimination against livestock marts

Meanwhile, Doyle also indicated that the system of controls put in place by the Irish meat industry also discriminates directly against livestock marts, which provide the only modern-day competition to the factories.

“It is common practice in the marts for an animal to be sold from farm to farm as it moves from youth through fattening and onto slaughter, while adhering fully to all animal transfer and traceability regulations.

The marts system enables free trade between farmers and provides a true reflection of the value of livestock. However, through their conditions, the factories are seeking to remove marts from the equation.

“Movement and residency should only be based on Bord Bia Quality Assurance Standards, which allow for multiple movements between quality-assured farms before and during the final 70-day period prior to slaughter.

“The main factors of quality in meat destined for consumers are derived from the handling of meat after slaughter – where meat gains tenderness through a slow chilling process, hanging for at least 14 days and hanging by the pelvis versus the leg.

“The number of movements pre-slaughter has no bearing on meat quality and, conversely, movement of livestock from farm to farm enhances the beneficial content of meat through the maximum exposure to a naturally pasture fed diet,” Doyle said.

Concluding, he said: “It’s time to clamp down on anti-competitive activities in the Irish meat industry and we want the Directorate-General for Competition to step up to the plate in this regard, particularly to protect producers as well as consumers.

“If the European Commission can take an entire member country and one of the world’s largest technology multinationals to task in relation to taxation, then they should be able to sort out the Irish meat industry.”