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Wednesday 09 April 2014 – BRUSSELS – Irish meat factories are subverting the free trade of livestock between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland and into the UK, they are controlling and manipulating pricing and they are actively discriminating against livestock marts,  ICOS alleged today at a meeting with the European Directorate for Competition.

The ICOS position was backed up by the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers Association who attended the meeting with DG Competition in Brussels.  The IFA also attended the meeting and ICOS had also previously consulted with the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association and Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, prior to making its statement to DG Competition.

Michael Spellman, Chairman of ICOS Marts Committee said, “Livestock marts provide the only modern day competition to the factories and that is why the factories are attempting to stifle the live trade by placing a stranglehold on live cattle sales in both jurisdictions and on a cross border basis.

“For reasons best known to themselves, Irish owned meat factories have demanded adherence to onerous conditions around the movement of livestock and which have no basis in terms of regulation or quality and no justification on animal welfare or veterinary grounds.”

In its submission, ICOS stated to DG Competition that:

  • There is an effective ban by Irish owned meat plants in Northern Ireland on killing live cattle from the Republic of Ireland.  Irish (ROI) controlled meat factories in Northern Ireland either will not slaughter an animal, or they will impose a £150 fine per animal,  if any farmer presents an animal for slaughter that was born in the Republic of Ireland.
  • In a further penalty, factories in the Republic will not pay a 12 cents / kg “bonus” (i.e., approximately €60 per head of cattle) if an animal has moved through more than 4 farms. That penalty is £150 per head in Northern Ireland thereby subverting free competition and trade for livestock.
  • Irish factories will also not pay 12 cents / kg “bonus” if an animal has passed through a livestock mart within the last 70 days. In Northern Ireland, this penalty applies to animals traded in livestock marts in the last 30 days and a fine of up to £150 can apply.
  • Irish factories have also developed very large owned and rented feedlots (animal storage areas for factory feeding of cattle prior to finishing).  These can have tens of thousands of animals present to reduce demand through increased supply at peak times
  • ICOS also cited the example of US legislation being enacted to outlaw meat processors from owning beef feedlots because of the distortion to trade.

Michael Spellman, Chairman of ICOS Marts Committee said, “The factories are levying abattoir fines on livestock even though these livestock are compliant with the relevant regulations in both jurisdictions.

“Through their ‘conditions’, the factories are interfering  with the free trade of cattle in livestock marts where it is common practice, while adhering fully to all animal transfer and traceability regulations, for an animal to be sold from farm to farm as it moves from youth through fattening and onto slaughter. They are seeking to circumvent the marts system which enables free trade between farmers and a true reflection of the value of livestock.

“Frequent livestock transfers are a well understood characteristic of the Irish farm sector, because many smaller farms are not able to take cattle through the full process from birth to slaughter. They sell them on to the next appropriate farm with full traceability.  The livestock marts are the conduit for this live trade between individual farms.  This benefits everyone in the livestock industry and it ensures a fair and open price.”

Blocking Live Trade with Britain

Last month,  ICOS also stated that no Irish owned factory in Britain will kill Irish born cattle which has effectively cut off live trade from Irish marts into Britain.

Additionally, smaller abattoirs and food-service operators who supply over 45% of beef in Britain, find it impossible to have their offal processed by Irish owned UK factories if the live cattle processed in their abattoir has come from Ireland.

The Big 4 Irish meat processors (ABP, Dunbia, Dawn and Kepak) now account for 65% of the total Irish cattle kill and approximately 45% of the UK kill.   This caters for probably 80 – 90% of the total killed for export destined to UK multiple retailers.

In its submission, the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers Association said:

This situation is clearly anti-competitive and a blatant attempt by NI abattoirs to control the fat cattle market by taking out their only competition – the live market. The marts therefore believe that either British supermarkets or NI abattoirs individually or together want to influence and dominate the trading system.

They have been unable to eliminate livestock markets – the last bastion of genuine competition in the beef market.

All beef currently supplied to supermarkets comes from FQA Herds (NI Beef & Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme), which ensures strict compliance with a comprehensive range of welfare and quality regulations. Most marts are also quality assured under the NIFCC (Northern Ireland Food Chain Certification) Scheme. These schemes operate to the highest industry standards and it is superfluous to require additional measures.

Reports suggest, however,  that abattoirs have had audits from supermarkets, which have resulted in findings of improper practices (including the horsemeat scandal etc.).  As a result abattoirs say they are attempting to exert control over the supply chain by applying fines to cattle, which do not meet specification.

The submission by the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers Association went on to say:

The marts contend that no one in the past 12 months has brought the beef industry into more disrepute than abattoirs and British Supermarkets through selling horse meat yet these are the people who are dictating terms to those in the food chain whose hands are clean.”



Ireland has over 6.5 Million cattle, producing 2.2 Million calves annually. This results in almost 1.5 Million cattle being presented for slaughter of which we export almost 90% of meat.  Additionally we have approximately 200,000 – 300,000 of live exports.  Ireland has always been a provider of cattle for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom for hundreds of years. As a nation we are only consuming approximately 10% of what we produce and in 2013 Ireland produced over 472,000 tonnes of beef meat for export.

The United Kingdom on the other hand is only approximately 75% self-sufficient in beef meat and must import approximately 350,000 tonnes of additional beef to satisfy national demand. Ireland supplies the vast majority of this imported beef meat as you would expect due to our proximity. In 2013 Ireland produced and exported over 250,000 tonnes of beef meat to the UK representing almost 70% of their total imports.

The UK market is the only EU market where these effective barriers to the free trade of live cattle exist.  Ireland is exporting 200,000 tonnes of live beef to continental Europe without restrictive stipulations that have been introduced for exports to the UK allegedly for quality and welfare reasons.


Media reference:

Ray Doyle, ICOS Marts Executive, 087 288 3499

Tim Kinsella, MKC Communications, 086 813 7512