Up to 1,000 farmers from all corners of Ireland braved Storm Imogen on Sunday to stage a protest outside of Slaney Meats in Bunclody which prompted Minister Simon Coveney to refer the proposed sale of the 50 per cent stake in Slaney Meats to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
At the rally IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns said farmers are demanding that the Minister Coveney gets stuck in and tackles the lack of competition that has plagued the Irish beef sector for years. 'Livestock farmers are very frustrated because they feel the Minister is clearly leaning towards the processors and not the farmer.'
He said livestock farmers have real fears and concerns around competition and dominance in beef processing as well as rendering in the sale of the Allen family 50 per cent share of the Slaney/ICM business to ABP. This investment would give ABP effective control on up to 29 per cent of the beef kill and three of the six rendering plants in the country.
Sheep farmers are equally concerned over competition and dominance in lamb processing with the ABP investment in Irish Country Meats (ICM). ICM currently has up to 40 per cent of the lamb kill and lamb processing also needs more competition.
Yesterday (Monday) Minister Coveney bowed to the pressure from the farmers and announced he will refer the proposed purchase of the 50 per cent stake in Slaney Meats to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
A spokesperson for Mr Coveney said the minister will write to the Competition Commission and ask them to conduct a robust examination of the proposed merger in light of farmers' concerns.
Mr Burns said Minister Coveney must understand that a sustainable Irish beef sector has to be about delivering viable prices back to primary producers and not all about cheap raw material for processors and retailers.
He said the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CPCC) has told IFA that there is nothing stopping Minister Coveney from making a submission to the Authority on the proposed merger and in support of effective competition in the livestock sector.
Mr Burns called on Minister Coveney to take a real interest and address the lack of competition in the beef sector and the unacceptable price gap that has opened up between Irish and British cattle prices. He said Bord Bia has provided figures to the Minister which show that the average Irish/UK price gap for 2015 has widened to 82c/kg or €293 per head. This compares to an average of 27c/kg or €97 per head over the 10 years from 2004 to 2013.
He said the way the meat factories are imposing weight limits and age penalties on farmers is a complete breach of the outcomes agreed by Minister Coveney in the Beef Forum.