Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy TD, has penned a letter to Minister Charlie McConalogue, requesting the department to carry out a “comprehensive analysis” on the impacts of factory-owned feedlots in the market.
Carthy has called for a review into their effects on prices, the environment and “potential to undermine the marketing of Irish beef into the future”.
He believes the “dramatic increase” in factory feedlots in recent years “is a certain factor” in the “poor beef prices farmers receive”.
In response to a parliamentary question, it was revealed to Teachta Carthy that the number of slaughtered cattle at Controlled Finishing Units (CFUs), which the department used as a proxy for factory feedlots, had increased by over 34% between 2015 and 2020.
Factory-owned feedlots: Contrasting figures
Teachta Carthy said:
“The intervention of factory feedlot cattle is a certain significant factor in the stagnating beef prices received by farmers.”
“Figures from a recent parliamentary question response I received confirm that, but also raise questions as to the validity of the department’s metrics.”
He said the department has reported 295,000 cattle slaughtered from CFUs in 2018.
However, he added that contemporary reporting compiled independently but based upon departmental data placed this figure more than 315,000.
“This discrepancy needs to be explained. But, regardless, what the departments own figures do indicate is an increase of over 33% since 2017.”
“The meat industry has been telling farmers since the onset of Covid-19, that demand in the hospitality sector has been ‘decimated’ with retail increases not sufficient to offset the effect.”
“They should also explain why, in that case, feedlot slaughter figures for the first two months of 2021 were comparable to 2020.”
He said, unfortunately, the government have never carried out a comprehensive analysis of the element in meat production, including its impact on prices and its environmental effects.
“Statutory agencies such as Competition and Consumer Protection Commission have appeared as at best disinterested in farmers questions as to whether this level of market presence presents the ability to control price.”
‘An existential threat to the Irish beef product’
“The continued growth of factory feedlots presents an existential threat to the Irish beef product.”
“Consumers all over the world purchase Irish beef on the back of the image of the farmer in the field alongside their cows and calves.”
“But, if the proportion of beef being produced in this country coming from factory feedlots continues to grow, then so too will that image.
“By its very nature, beef produced through this style of more industrialised agriculture is less environmentally sustainable.”