Retailers are being called on to “come clean” to beef farmers and their customers on what their specifications are for beef, and their reasons for having those specifications.

The Beef Plan Movement made the call in relation to the 30-month rule, urging “the people of Ireland to help Irish farmers end this unfair rule so we can make a fair return for our efforts in producing top-quality Irish beef”.

Brendan Barry, the group’s chairperson of both its Leitrim county committee and Retail and Markets Committee, highlighted that two businesses – Supermac’s and Lidl – have stated that they would be prepared to accept beef from animals aged under 36 months at slaughter.

Barry pointed out that a wide range of people – including other farm organisations, local authorities, MEPs, TDs, senators and councillors – had written to retailers asking them to outline their specifications.

Barry commented that the 30-month rule was introduced in February 2009, a month after an EU rule – which required cattle aged over 30 months at slaughter to be tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) – was altered to apply only to cattle over 48 months.

Barry argued that the earlier BSE-related rule – in place since 2001 – was a “scientific precautionary measure”, while the subsequent 30-month quality payments specification was “introduced for financial reasons and has been used to put an artificial sell-by date on live animals which forces farmers to sell cattle”.

“It limits our farmers’ ability to hold back stock to try and negotiate a better price,” he added.

Barry also quoted figures showing that, in 2018, 27% of steers (around 180,648 head) and 17% of heifers (around 77,930 head) that were sent for slaughter were aged over 30 months.

The Beef Plan Leitrim chair suggested that, if the average carcass weight for steers and heifers in 2018 is applied to those figures, farmers could have lost in the region of €10 million on the 30-month rule alone.

Barry added that this figure “doesn’t take into account the negative effect the specification has on weakening farmers’ ability to negotiate price in the autumn when large numbers of spring-born cattle are coming close to 30 months-of-age”.

Last week, the Beef Plan Movement held a “positive and productive” meeting with Aldi Ireland, where ongoing issues regarding the supply of beef in Ireland were discussed at length.

The farm lobby group says the meeting facilitated “the sharing of information” and it is understood that both parties have committed to remaining in contact.

Beef Plan Movement spokesperson Dermot O’Brien stated: “Aldi confirmed it was carrying out its own analysis of 30-month versus 36-month from a scientific and consumer perspective, and this would form part of its engagement with the Beef Market Taskforce.”