Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue, has been asked for his views on the 4-movement and 30-months rules.
Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy raised the question earlier this week. He asked what steps are being taken to ensure that such rules do not negatively impact on competition and farmers’ ability to receive a fair price.
Carthy said: “A number of rules are imposed by factories on farmers. Many of them date back to the period of the BSE crisis.”
“The most renowned of them are the 30-month and four-movement rules. They cause huge consternation for the farming community. They are seen as a way the factories manipulate prices and the market.”
In response, the minister said: “I thank the deputy and I know this is something that received much attention during the beef protests last year and has also received much attention since then with regard to the beef task force.”
“The deputy knows there is not a rule as such limiting the age of cattle or the number of movements for beef production, but meat processors do make in-spec bonus payments in respect of cattle that meet certain market specifications which can be required by retail customers.”
“The 30-month age and four-movement specifications to which the deputy refers fall into this category. Such specifications are a commercial matter and are not conditions imposed by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.”
It should be noted, he added, that certain third countries have imposed a 30-month age limit in respect of beef imports. This is specified in certain veterinary health certificates which accompany beef exports to those countries.
In September 2019, consensus was reached between stakeholders on the Irish beef sector agreement, he added.
A new bonus of 8 cents per kg was introduced for steers and heifers aged between 30-36 months that meet all non-age-related existing in-spec criteria. Up until this, they had not been the subject of any bonus.
McConalogue referenced an independent review of market and customer requirements, specifically in respect of the four in-spec bonus criteria.
Grant Thornton was successful in tendering for the transparency studies. This includes a review of market and customer requirements, specifically in the context of in-spec bonus criteria.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused some initial delays to progress on these studies, the minister revealed. However, he confirmed that updates on the report are planned for the next meeting of the task force.
‘Nobody asks the restaurant to ensure the beef is 29-months-old’
In response, Carthy said the Minister is “basically reciting the factories’ propaganda”.
“They call it a bonus criterion. Every farmer I know calls it a penalty because it is one. It is not a bonus that people who meet the criteria get. It is a penalty those who do not must pay in the form of receiving a reduced price.”
“The factories are bleeding farmers dry and using some of these rules to do so. There is a need for intervention.”
“Nobody goes into a restaurant, requests its best sirloin beef and asks the restaurant to ensure that the beef is 29-months-old.”
“Nobody goes into a supermarket and looks at the packaging to see how many movements the cow that produced the beef made. These are just mechanisms put in place to distort the market.”
‘It is very crucial that farmers get a fair price’
In conclusion, McConalogue said: “I see a very strong role for that task force as the voice for farmers and the representative farmers on how we go forward from that point.”
“The commitment to introduce a food ombudsman to bring additional transparency is something I am very committed to because it is very crucial for me that farmers get a fair price, are profitable and are rewarded for the very hard work they carry out.”