TD calls on EU to investigate ‘apparent cartel behaviour’ in beef

The European Commissioner for Competition is being called on by one TD here to investigate the Irish beef sector for “apparent cartel behaviour”.

Michael Fitzmaurice, an independent TD for the Roscommon-Galway constituency, said he had contacted Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to highlight discrepancies between the price being paid to Irish farmers, and their counterparts in other parts of the EU.

“If you look at the [Northern Ireland based] Livestock and Meat Commission for the week ending November 24, you will see Ireland is languishing in ninth position when it comes to the average price received for an R3-grade heifer, with just above 350c/kg,” deputy Fitzmaurice said.

Meanwhile, farmers in Northern Ireland and Britain placed fourth and fifth respectively in the leader board – receiving almost 40c/kg more for the same animal compared to Irish farmers.

“The Irish beef price would have to rise by almost 50c/kg to reach the top of the table – or by 35c/kg just to break into the top six,” the TD highlighted.

According to Fitzmaurice, the “game is up for meat factories in Ireland”.

“Farmers have been taking a price well-below the cost of production for some time and the processors have been extremely slow to pass increases, despite markets improving,” he added.

When you look at the price discrepancies between Ireland and other European countries, it is absolutely scandalous to see what is going on.

“While it is positive that the beef taskforce met this week, the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed needs to step up to the mark and put pressure on factories to up their prices in line with other markets,” Fitzmaurice insisted.

He explained: “In the meantime, I have contacted Commissioner Vestager to investigate the apparent cartel behaviour that seems to be at play in the Irish beef industry. Having already received an acknowledgement, I look forward to liaising with the commissioner and her office on this matter.”

He said he would remain in contact with the commissioner’s office “to ensure that a thorough investigation is carried out”.

Fitzmaurice commented that farmers have “suffered for too long at the hands of processors”, adding: “When it is time to pass on the benefits of improving markets, they keep the purse strings firmly tightened, until it is impossible to deny any further that a price increase is warranted.

However, when markets are depressed, factories have no hesitation whatsoever in handing the cut directly back to the primary producer.

The TD concluded his remarks by saying: “With the glut of cattle in the country reducing all the time, one would imagine that price increases are imminent – as well as long overdue.”