The Beef Protests and the Larger Issue of the Mismanagement of the Irish Agriculture Sector 12/11/2014

Young Greens Chair, Lorna Bogue, in solidarity with Farmers

Young Greens Chair, Lorna Bogue, in solidarity with Farmers

Yesterday afternoon, the 48 hour protest by members of the Irish farming community against unfair beef prices that took place at 12 of the nation’s largest meat factories came to an end. Despite this, very few of the problems raised by these farmers have been resolved. Lorna Bogue, Chair of the Young Greens/Óige Ghlas, attended one of the protests in Charleville to get an insight into how this is affecting those who are demonstrating.

“Irish beef farmers appear to be in a catch-22 situation. Around 70% of meat processors in Ireland are owned by three companies”, Bogue said. “These companies, because they have such large market share, are able to dictate what price they’ll pay for the cattle that farmers bring in to them. This puts beef farmers in the difficult position of not knowing what price they will be able to sell their cattle for, so the likelihood of a farmer having a bad year, i.e. buying too many cattle, incurring the cost of raising these cattle and then being unable to sell them for a profit, is much greater. This results in farmers either having to take a greater risk the following year, going into debt, or simply not farming anymore.”

“Many of the farmers I was talking to yesterday believe that the meat processors, particularly the three largest processors, appear to be a functional cartel (fixing the prices amongst themselves). The Young Greens would agree with this view and would call for an investigation as to whether meat processors are engaging in price fixing in Ireland. Action on price fixing was asked for by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmer’s association back in February of this year[1], but was ignored by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney. Many of the issues being flagged right now are ones which have been flagged for a long time”.

It is the view of the Young Greens that the regulations in place are unfair to smaller farmers. It is also our view that the privatisation of beef co-operatives had incredible negative consequences, not only for farmers looking for a fair price, but also for the average consumer. As our chair elaborated, “a further problem that is faced by beef farmers is that they have to conform to what are quite arbitrary standards from meat processors. Given that the meat processors have such a hold on the market, given that there is nowhere else that they can go to sell their cattle, the farmers must conform to the regulations, which seem to be designed to lower the price that meat processors have to pay for cattle.”

“The fact that there are so few options for farmers outside of the big players is as a direct result of government after government supporting the creation of large private companies which largely focus on export. Although these companies may have started off as part of the co-op movement, the fact of the matter is that they are now private companies, beholden only to their shareholders and not farmers, or indeed citizens of this state. One has only to look at Glanbia, who has been found lately to be moving money through Luxembourg to avoid taxes[2] to see that this is the case.”

[1] http://www.independent.ie/business/farming/new-icsa-chief-wants-action-on-deepening-bull-beef-crisis-29975329.html

[2] http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/glanbia-s-1bn-luxembourg-move-to-cut-its-irish-tax-bill-1.1989452

by Diarmuid Burke – Branch Coordinator

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