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‘Everybody benefits? I’m guessing a lot of farmers would disagree’

In my previous articles to That’s Farming, I have been highlighting concerns that farmers have about anti-competitive and restrictive practices in the beef sector,  writes Pat Maher, member of Independent Farmers of Ireland.

In this article, I would like to focus again on Bord Bia’s Pathways for Growth, The core objective outlined in this strategic plan was to promote ‘co-opetition’ between processors, not competition, and the ‘branding’ of all farmers by means of Bord Bia supposedly voluntary QAS.

This is also where the concept for the Beef Industry Development Society (BIDS) came from. The BIDS scheme had been put together to reduce the total capacity of the processing industry by 25% in what is referred to as consolidation and rationalisation.

Pathways for Growth

Pathways for Growth takes this further by directing processors and retailers to co-operate rather than compete for the same supply of cattle, which is then delivered to them by Bord Bia via their quality assurance scheme (QAS).

Bord Bia schemes are insisted upon by the retailers and processors, so where Bord Bia says these QAS are voluntary, the reality is they are a de facto pre-requisite and as such, they are a restrictive practice and anti-competitive.

This consolidation and rationalisation strategy has already been found to be illegal in the European courts.

Pathways for Growth continues, the plan directs that processors and retailers collaborate to supply the markets, rather than compete, whilst the branding component was designed to collectivise farmers via Bord Bia schemes, with the intention to deliver them into a reduced number of processors!

Markets

When we think of where our main markets are, we must ask ourselves why do we supply these particular markets? 90% of our beef is exported and yet the majority of that trade is with our nearest neighbour the UK, I wonder who identified this market as our target market?

I can safely say farmers didn’t, as farmers had no say or input. But when the main dominant processors and the main dominant retailers in Ireland are also dominant players in the UK marketplace, and when these select dominant players are instructed by Bord Bia through Pathway for Growth to ‘collaborate’ then the UK market would be the obvious choice?

Everybody benefits? I’m guessing a lot of farmers would disagree.

Pathways for Growth effectively results in Bord Bia acting as a state marketing and promotional body for the business interests of private processors and retailers and not the business interests of farmers.

This is where some people might suggest that this activity could be a breach of Competition rules, were by this plan is anti-competitive and results in restrictive practices. It also appears contradictory to section 5 of The Competition Act 2002 section 5.1 ‘abuse of dominant position’ and contradictory to the statutory functions of An Bord Bia to farmers.

This could explain why people would say that there is an element of collusion in the industry.

CCPC

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has stated in the past that ‘they can find no tangible evidence of collusive type behaviour in the sector ‘ but perhaps =, they are looking in the wrong places?

If the CCPC put Pathways for Growth under the microscope like they did with BIDS, which was found to be wholly illegal, then maybe all these questions would be answered.

Farmers cannot afford to take a wait and see approach. The time is now.

The result of Bord Bia Pathways for Growth is the rounding up of farmers and directing them into processors and retailers who are directed to ‘co-operate’.

The primary aim is exports of volume through the established supply chains of dominant processors and retailers. Bord Bia QAS does not reflect quality and does not secure a premium price for farmers? Is the contrary the reality?

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