‘Time to turn this vision into reality and establish a regulator with real power’ – ICSA

The president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA), Edmond Phelan, told the Minister for Agriculture that the organisation wants to “ensure that our demand for a regulator for the beef food chain is delivered”.

Phelan said he has “set out an agenda for the cattle and sheep sectors” in his first meeting with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Dara Calleary, today, Friday, July 24.

Commenting on the meeting, Phelan said there are a number of key issues that the ICSA want tackled.

“Our presentation to the minister was very focused on the difficulties faced by cattle and sheep farmers. In particular, the ICSA wants to ensure that our demand for a regulator for the beef food chain is delivered.

“Key demands from the ICSA include a regulator to permanently oversee the beef chain, a sheep taskforce to find solutions to low wool prices and provide accountability on lamb imports and Protected Geographical Indication [PGI] status exclusively for sucklers,” he said.

Amongst the top priorities was funding for schemes.

Phelan said they have asked the minister to commit to a Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) with “treble the funding” of the current Green, Low-Carbon, Agri-Environment Scheme (GLAS).

‘Injustices of the food chain’

Phelan said the ICSA has been concerned about the “injustices of the food chain” for a number of years, having first proposed in 2014 and then brought to Europe an outline of these injustices. Commissioner Phil Hogan “undertook to do something about unfair trading practices” at the time.

“It is now time to turn this vision into reality and establish a regulator with real power to audit and investigate what goes on in the food chain. Robust and effective regulation is long overdue,” Phelan said.

While the ICSA outlined the unsustainability of current beef prices, we made a case for the €50 million beef finisher fund to be targeted at winter beef finishers who have been hardest hit by poor prices.

“The ICSA believes that payment should be on up to 200 animals for family farms but that factory-owned feedlots should get nothing.”

‘Push for additional exchequer funds’

Phelan sought a commitment from Minister Calleary to push for additional exchequer funds for the farming sector.

“This is crucial if we are serious about playing our part in the new EU Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies, of which a new REPS type scheme would form a vital part,” he said.

The ICSA has calculated that an annual budget of €750 million or three times the current GLAS budget, is the minimum required if we are sincere about getting real results and rewarding farmers for their role.

“Minister Calleary must also ensure the continuation of the Organics Scheme as a matter of urgency. The EU-wide target of 25% [in terms of the area farmed] to be set aside for organic farming by 2030 makes it clear we need to do so much more when it comes to organics.”

Phelan outlined the need to pursue a dedicated EU PGI status for suckler beef.

“The ICSA is adamant suckler beef must be developed and promoted as a unique high value product.

“We believe the current position of looking for PGI status for all beef is the wrong approach as it would do nothing to ensure the viability of the struggling suckler sector.”

Sheep Taskforce

Phelan also called on the minister to establish a sheep taskforce with a remit to tackle all ongoing issues in the sheep sector.

“It’s clear the sector has greater potential, but that potential is being wasted through the lack of any specific Covid-19 support for sheep farmers, inadequate supports through the Sheep Welfare Scheme, the lack of transparency around large volumes of sheep imports as well as the complete collapse of wool prices.

“It’s time for Minister Calleary to bring all relevant stakeholders together to take on these challenges and see to it that there is a future for sheep farming in this country,” he concluded.