Fianna Fáil Agriculture spokesperson Éamon Ó Cuív is rejecting claims by the Minister for Agriculture that there is sufficient competition in the beef sector.

He says that Minister Simon Coveney is ruling out the appointment of an independent beef regulator, claiming there is already enough competition in the market.

“Minister Coveney is hiding his head in the sand if he genuinely believes there is no problem in the beef sector. Last year saw the situation reach crisis point, with bull beef prices collapsing completely.  The main driving force behind this crisis is the push by major retailers to drive down costs, while increasing their profits at the expense of the farmer.

“There needs to be a shift in power to a more equitable system between the farmer and the processor. At the moment, the main rendering plants are calling the shots. They’ve been allowed to change the specifications of age and weight and have been refusing to slaughter cattle. This imbalance is putting the livelihoods of hundreds of small family farmers at risk. Many have already left the sector because their business has been rendered unviable due to these changes.

“The very heart of rural Ireland is being damaged by this crisis, yet the Minister is happy to stand back and support big business interests. What we need is strong independent regulation. I want to see a regulator appointed to ensure that farmers get a fair price for their beef, and are not exploited or taken advantage of. The viability of the beef industry, and particularly, the vulnerable suckler cow sector, is at stake. The beef sector is an integral part of our agri-food sector and is worth €2 billion a year to our economy.

“The Government needs to protect the national herd and balance the power between farmers and producers if it’s to achieve the Food Harvest 2020 targets put in place by the previous Government. My calls for a regulator have been backed by farming organisations. Prices are plummeting, the winter premium has disappeared and small family farmers are suffering and the Minister needs to re-think his approach to this crisis.”