In recent weeks the Government have been called on to appoint a regulator for the meat processing industry.

Addressing the Agriculture and Food Committee some weeks ago Edmond Phelean ICSA Chairman  said: “Such a regulator must have power of investigation and real teeth. Moreover, it must ensure there is fair competition in the processing sector and that farmers have real choice when it comes to selling their livestock.”

Responding to the call in the Dail this week Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said: “The relationship between processors and farmers is an interdependent one. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of both sides working together to manage the type and volume of cattle being brought to market so that the supply chain does not undermine the viability of beef production systems for either winter finishers or suckler farmers.”

He commented: “The current situation clearly underlines the need for industry operators to improve communication on market trends and signals throughout the supply chain and to address supply chain issues in such a context. An industry-led solution to the current uncertainty is essential to restoring confidence in the sector and I would encourage the various stakeholders to continue their efforts to reach a mutually acceptable outcome.

Minister Coveney stated: “Department monitors the kill figures from Irish meat plants and I note that that slaughtering of bull beef in the first 11 weeks of 2014 (up to the week ending 16 March) stood at almost 65,000 head which represented an increased kill of almost 2,000 head (3%) over the same period in 2013. In addition the number of live cattle exported to the end of week 10 (week ending 9 March) is approximately 42,000 head which is up 6% over the same period in 2013.”

He said: “This is positive news and belies the perception that there has been a reduction in outlets for slaughter of bull beef or live exports. It should also be noted that Irish beef prices were 106% of the EU average R3 steer price in 2013 and notwithstanding recent fluctuations remain relatively high. The average price change over the first 10 weeks of this year for the benchmark R3 steer is an approximate 1.8% reduction but it must be remembered that it is common for prices to decrease slightly in the first quarter of any year.”

In relation to the current difficulties between farmers and processors. The minister remarked: “Ultimately questions of price and market specification are matters to be determined between the purchasers and the sellers of cattle and it is neither appropriate nor possible for me to intervene directly on these issues.

“Nonetheless I met with both farmer representatives and processors recently to discuss the current situation. Following that interaction, I have called on the factories, in collaboration with the farming bodies, to resolve the various issues that have lately caused difficulties for some producers.“

He added: “At my request, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) member companies have kept their livestock offices open to deal with farmers with any particular queries or concerns on the marketing of their stock. MII member companies have made available contact details for each of their main plants to enable farmers to phone them directly.”