Revealed: Conclusions agreed in stakeholder beef talks

A review of the beef grid, beef specifications, carcass classification and market transparency were key issues covered by beef industry stakeholders during the key talks which took place on Monday, August 12.

The meeting saw crunch talks take place between Meat Industry Ireland (MII) and farm organisations including: the Beef Plan Movement; the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA); the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA); the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA); the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA); and Macra na Feirme.

The talks were facilitated by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, supported by Bord Bia and Teagasc, and chaired by former Department of Agriculture secretary general Michael Dowling.

In the document detailing the conclusions of the stakeholders, seen by AgriLand, a number of issues in different aspects of the sector were highlighted.

Three items were highlighted on the list as requiring further consultation by MII among its members, namely: weighing before slaughter; verbal contracts; and in-spec requirements.

MII agreed to revert to stakeholders by this evening for the first two, with further discussions on the in-spec requirements earmarked for next week.

Grid Review

Under proposals for a review of the grid, it was stated that draft terms of reference are to be circulated by this Friday, August 16, with such terms to be agreed by stakeholders by the following Friday, August 23.

It was agreed that Teagasc is to carry out an exercise providing scientific evidence on differentiation between different conformation and score classes.

Farmers and processors will then independently arrive at a consensus on any revision of the grid. A review of hot/cold weighing is also to be included.

On Quality Based Pricing (QPS), bonus and specification issues, a number of aspects were discussed.

The department and Bord Bia agreed to update a previous review of market and customer requirements while Bord Bia also agreed to undertake an exercise to provide more granular information on retail price developments in the UK and two key EU markets by Friday.

MII confirmed that the base price applies to all animals regardless of age, while it was agreed that where processors apply carcass weight limits, they will give a minimum of four months’ notice period for changing weight limits.

The department committed to continue to work with authorities in third countries to negotiate market access without age restrictions, while both the department and Bord Bia are to provide data on the share of kill for animals under 30 and 36 months, and their estimated share of beef, as well as the estimated proportion of Irish beef for customers and markets demanding under 30-month beef by next week.

An aspect which is still to be worked through by the different sides is a proposal for future discussion on in-spec requirements including: the under 30-month requirement for in-spec bonus; 70-day residency requirement for QPS; and the four-movement rule.

Carcass classification

On the topic of carcass classification, it was agreed that, regarding carcass image, the industry will provide images from carcass classification to farmers on request.

It was established that the system for doing so will be determined and communicated to stakeholders by the end of the week.

In addition, regarding manually graded carcasses, the department will examine the feasibility of the appeals system by Friday.

On another point, which failed to be agreed immediately in the meeting, there was unanimous agreement from producer stakeholders that animals should be weighed prior to slaughter. MII agreed to consult its members and revert by today.

Market transparency

Market transparency was another key topic broached during the meeting, with a number of proposals put forth.

The department agreed to “consider the publication of a range of minimum to maximum prices on a weekly basis, in addition to the current publication of an average price per category, and will revert on this by Friday.

A regulation providing for more detailed price data under the EU Meat Market Observatory is currently being finalised. The Irish industry will introduce initiatives in this area in line with EU agreement on this regulation.

Meanwhile, Bord Bia will produce a paper outlining the potential development of a market index model by the end of August.

A consultation process will also be launched in September regarding the transposition of the EU Unfair Trading Practices Directive, currently being considered by a Government working group – this consultation will also consider whether there is a need for an independent grocery regulator.

MII is to consider whether industry could provide written confirmation of verbal contracts, and revert by this evening.

Finally, the department will commission a summary of relevant competition law issues.

Promotion

In terms of beef promotion, it was agreed that Bord Bia will progress an application to secure EU funding for suckler beef promotion in key EU markets.

The agency is also to assist the development of a brand proposition for Irish suckler beef.

Meanwhile, both the department and Bord Bia will progress engagement with the European Commission on the development of a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status for Irish grass-fed beef.

Finally, Bord Bia is to investigate market opportunities for Irish grass-fed bull beef.

Insurance and retailers

The department agreed to provide data on animals condemned at ante or post mortem examination by Friday, and MII will provide details of the insurance scheme and confirm that farmers can opt out of the scheme.

Meanwhile, it was agreed that retailers should be invited to a future meeting with stakeholders.

Other points that achieved general agreement and consensus on Monday included: that live exports are a critical part of the industry and there should be a continued strategic focus on this; the need to fully fund the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and protect its share of the EU budget and the protection of current levels of direct payments to Irish beef farmers; and the threat of Brexit and the urgent need for support in this area.

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