IRELAND - Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney has called on meat processors to be more pro-active in relation to the implementation of the recommendations of the Dowling Report on the Beef Sector.
Referring to the current difficulties, Minister Coveney said that it was critically important to restore confidence and build trust between suppliers and processors.
“Irish beef farmers are feeling the pressure at the moment. Prices have declined significantly since the highs of last year, not only in Ireland, but internationally. That is the market reality,” he said.
“However, in circumstances where there is downward pressure on prices, it is all the more important that the relationship between processors and farmers is built on transparency and trust.
“The Dowling report recommended clearer communications with farmers in relation to prices and specification, and I would like to see action from processors on this.
“Retailers also have a critical role to play, and must be cognisant of the need to ensure that farmers receive a fair return for their efforts if the sector is to be sustainable.
“We need to see some action now that can help to restore confidence in the sector.“
Referring specifically to the Dowling recommendation, Minister Coveney said: “The Dowling Report made recommendations in relation to the provision of clear, simple and transparent information to farmers on price and specification based on the grid system.
“It also referred to the need to ensure that any adjustments to specification take adequate account of the normal production cycle, and in relation to the development of contract models to give farmers more security when it comes to supplying animals. Farmers need to have a simple, comprehensible framework for determining the price that will be paid for their animals.
“There has been an understandable period of reflection on the report’s contents at this stage, and I expect processors to take pro-active steps to work with farming organisations to deal with these issues.”
The Minister also outlined the progress made by his Department on a range of beef issues since the Beef forum, which was convened in Dublin Castle in April and June this year:
“When I asked Michael Dowling to prepare his report, I made it clear that to the extent that his recommendations required action from my Department or its agencies, this would be pursued,” he said.
“In that regard my Department is already well advanced in the development of a Beef Pricewatch Application, Bord Bia has set aside an additional €0.5 million to fund a promotional campaign for beef in UK and EU markets, and I will shortly be launching a consultation on the development of a legislative framework for the establishment on producer groups in the beef sector.
“I have also engaged with my NI counterpart Michelle O’Neill on the labelling questions, and last week I sent a €4 billion draft Rural Development Programme to Brussels which includes a significant developmental component for the beef sector.”
Concluding, Minister Coveney referred to his recent visit to the US to promote Irish beef.
“As a result of a considerable political and technical effort over the last two years, we are on the cusp of having approval for the sale of Irish beef in the US $700 million market for grass fed premium beef, for the first time since I entered politics 16 years ago.
“This is a significant achievement.
“This will be just one of a number of new third country markets opened to Irish beef in the past two years. There are considerable grounds for optimism in relation to this vital sector, which is capable of meeting the expectations of the most discerning US consumers.
“We must take the right approach now, however, to ensuring the viability of beef production and this will require a pro-active approach to dealing with the current issues.”
Irish Cattle and Sheep Association president Patrick Kent said: "The Minister is now getting the message that there is a crisis of confidence in the beef sector.
"As a crucial first step to restoring confidence, meat factories must take the 380kg weight limit and the 16-month requirement off the table. They must also bring forward proposals on how many suckler bulls they have markets for, which will give an indication as to what is a viable number of sucklers going into the future."
"Processors and retailers must realise that the 380kg weight limit is out of the question if a viable suckler herd providing top quality beef is to be maintained," Mr Kent added.
"We also need a change of approach from processors on pricing and quality assured bonuses."
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