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The Chairman of the ICOS Marts Committee, Michael Spellman and ICOS Livestock Executive, Ray Doyle have met with the Beef Chairman of the National Farmers Union (NFU), Charles Sercombe in England.  The delegation discussed issues of meat labelling and the trading practices of retailers and meat factories.

ICOS is the umbrella body for the co-operative movement, including the major dairy processing co-operatives and national livestock marts.

ICOS outlined to the NFU that Ireland’s beef exports to Britain amount to approximately 250,000 tonnes of carcase meat annually, some 88,000 tonnes of which goes onto retailers’ shelves.  If these 88,000 tonnes came from live cattle exports,  that would equate to approximately 275,000 cattle, but right now, there is no way that any proportion of this requirement will be met by Irish live exports to Britain, due to meat industry domination and control of supply channels in conjunction with retailers.

Indicative of their control on the market, Irish owned factories in Britain will not cull Irish sourced livestock, shutting off this avenue to Irish farmers.

When Ireland joined the then EEC in 1973, it exported about 400,000 live cattle to the UK annually and this was beneficial to all farmers on both sides of the water. Currently, live exports to the UK now stand at 9,000 per annum (2015 figures, Bord Bia).

While many store cattle sellers in the UK might not like thousands of cheaper Irish cattle in their market, an increase in live exports would in fact enable many UK farmers to make a better margin as they could buy and sell at lower rates than British beef and the differential would then stay in farmer’s hands, as opposed to the multiples and meat processors.

ICOS also outlined to the NFU that the percentage of factory-fit animals going to slaughter via livestock marts in Ireland has decreased significantly including a decrease in the cull cow trade.  This is directly due to the trade inhibiting conditions of the Irish factories’ QPS bonus system.  One of these conditions is that  cattle that have moved holdings within the last 70 days before slaughter do not qualify for the QPS bonus.  Additionally, cattle with more than 4 movements between farms are penalised. However the Bord Bia Beef and Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme allows for multiple movements between quality assured farms before and during the final 70 day period prior to slaughter.

The factories contend that the basis for restrictions is ‘consumer demands’.   However, there is no scientifically based animal welfare or meat quality rationale for the imposition of this movement restriction which has the effect of distorting free trade.

The anti-trade conditions created by livestock export and movement restrictions is disastrous for farmers and marts alike.  The meat factories allege that the UK consumer demands to know where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered and to achieve this clarity they have effectively locked cattle on the island of Ireland until they are fit for slaughter.  However,  ICOS stated that this is more to do with trade control than having any legitimate quality or consumer basis.