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Minister under fire on future of Irish beef industry

Fianna Fail demand fresh government action on worsening crisis in beef sector.

The government is facing fresh pressure to tackle issues surrounding the crisis imperilling the future of the country’s beef trade.

Speaking following a meeting of meat processors and representatives of the farming industry in Carrick-On-Shannon earlier this week, Fianna Fail Senator, Marc MacSharry said the government’s “head in the sand” approach to the crisis must not be allowed to continue.

He said “A series of tangible initiatives must now be pursued to address the crisis so a fairer return for the farm families of Ireland can be achieved.”

Senator MacSharry said that while it was acknowledged the problem was of a nationwide reach the situation had been “further exacerbated in Connaught/Ulster counties where holdings are smaller, winters longer and land is of poorer quality.”

Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney, he said “has recently reiterated his hands off approach by calling for little more than supermarkets, processors and farm organisations to communicate with one another.

“If this is the extent of the minister’s vision for the industry then I fear for our export trade.

“We need a hands-on, pro active minister who is prepared to get on a plane and personally engage with decision makers in the relevant sectors to grow our beef export markets and potential.”

He said that at this week’s meeting it was agreed Fianna Fail representatives “will meet with individual processors and supermarket multiples to persuade them to relax the four movement rule and prohibitive treatment of so-called nomadic cattle.

“This will enhance cross border trade where a 30% exchange rate uplift can give northern buyers bigger spending power while securing good value for good quality animals.

“The move would increase competition and consequently give a better return to farming families in the south.

“The multiples need to be made aware of the need to pass their margin back to the farmer through the processor. Currently, the farmer to consumer price differential is between 325 and 1,550%.

“It is surely reasonable for farmers to receive a fairer return for their efforts.”

The senator said it was also agreed at the meeting to identify all international markets which currently restrict the import of Irish beef of under 30 months and proactively seek to meet ambassadors of each of the countries to have the age limit raised to at least 48 months.

“The 30 month restriction is a BSE era legacy which is no longer necessary with the eradication of BSE.

“To date, engagement on this issue is superficial between Irish authorities and their counterparts in other markets with potential for Irish beef export growth. A more hands-on and proactive role must be taken by Minister Coveney and his government.

“We must also begin the process of seeking to have beef produced north and south of the border marketed as an all island product rather than of mixed origin. It will be difficult and  require inter agency, state and department unanimity on regulatory and quality controls together with appropriate global marketing.

“This would ensure that the international buyers recognise product from the island of Ireland as the safest and best. It would also help the market on both sides of the border.

“The head in the sand approach to Ireland’s beef crisis must not be allowed to continue.”

The senator said it was is clear from the department’s Market Access Document that “the superficial approach of merely sending emails to seek improvements to current restrictions will never produce the necessary results.

“We need,” he said, “a hands-on, pro active minister who is prepared to get on a plane and personally engage with decision makers in the relevant markets to grow our beef export markets and potential.”