Farmers have been encouraged to reject the ‘sweetheart’ deals being offered by some factories as protests continue into the latter half of the first week.
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has called on farmers to stick together in an effort to secure a more sustainable income moving forward.
Having been in attendance at a number of the protests in recent days, the Roscommon-Galway TD said: “I have called to a number of places where members and supporters of the Beef Plan Movement have been holding peaceful protests.
“First of all, these protestors need to be complimented for their determination and willingness to stand up for what they believe in.
“It has been unbelievable – at times – to see vehicles, especially lorries, driving through the picket lines with little or no regard for the people holding the peaceful protest.
“I think it is imperative that the likes of the Road Haulage Association would encourage those people with artics, rigids and trailers to respect people who are taking part in a peaceful protest if they are members of their association.
“It would be important for the association to come out and advocate for respect to be shown by drivers to all protestors that are abiding by the law and wearing high visibility jackets.
“It has also been heartening to see instances where farmers have arrived with their produce and have turned around in support of the movement. This is a difficult time for all farmers, throughout the length and breadth of the country.
“Vets have also decided to support the movement in some factories this week by refusing to cross the picket lines, an act which they must be commended for.”
Question of traceability?
Meanwhile, Fitzmaurice raised concerns regarding the – not to uncommon – sight of a UK-registered vehicle bringing livestock to a meat processing plant in the south of Ireland.
Continuing, he said: “With all the rules and regulations that farmers in the Republic of Ireland have to uphold, are they happy to see lambs or sheep coming in large numbers to Irish meat plants from across the border or indeed from further afield? It was said during the week at one protest that lambs had reportedly been transported all the way from Scotland to a factory in the southern half of Ireland.
“One would have to question the traceability of these lambs and sheep. Every articulated truck that comes to a southern factory is bringing up on 400 or more sheep with them.
“Is Bord Bia now in the business of promoting be it Northern Irish or Scottish lamb as Irish, at a time when our farmers are struggling to make a living or get a proper price for their produce?
“The number of farmers present at these protests this week illustrates the level of disillusionment among them with the prices that are being quoted by factories,” he explained.
Who gets what?
Commenting on the breakdown, Fitzmaurice said: “It is widely recognised that the retailers, who are not innocent in any of this, are taking €5 out of every €10 spent on beef.
“The factory takes €2.90 and the farmer – who brings the animals from birth right through until slaughter – gets just €2.10.
“For rural Ireland to survive, farmers cannot afford to be losing money. Does the Government, or factories or the retailers not realise that they will destroy rural Ireland if they keep treating farmers the way they are at the moment?
“I believe politicians have a role to play here by bringing in legislation which ensures farmers get a fair price for their produce, which is reflective of the cost of production, regardless of their enterprise.”
“While at these protests, it was sad – at times – to see some dealers, hackers and a small number of farmers passing through the picket line.
“It is widely known that special deals are being done for those that will turn around and bring in livestock when the factories are struggling to source sufficient numbers.
“But what every farmer in rural Ireland must realise is that it is not sustainable to continue taking the price that is there at the moment.
“You may be a winner today for taking a sweetheart deal because you brought sheep or cattle to the factory, but – down the road – you will get the same treatment as everyone else.
“From observing the protests, one thing that I have realised which is awful important is that if farmers stick together they may have an opportunity to secure a more sustainable living for everyone.
“As the old saying goes, one swallow won’t make a swallow. If prices stay as they are at the moment, then the reality of it is that the future is bleak for us all – regardless of whether you were up a few euro in what you killed in the last few days or not.”
Fitzmaurice noted that it was imperative that Meat Industry Ireland sits down for meaningful talks with representatives from the Beef Plan Movement – and indeed other farming organisations if needs be – in the coming days in order to strike a deal which would ensure a sustainable living for farmers in all areas.
On this, the independent TD said: “What factories must realise is that if they don’t do this, a time will come when they won’t have cattle to kill and workers will have to be let go.
“It is a vicious circle and the retailers must also come out and speak about what is going on across the sector. There is no good in the larger retailers making massive profits on the backs of Irish farmers, be them sheep or cattle enterprises.
“There is an unclear road ahead, with Brexit, the Mercosur trade deal and other headwinds facing farmers. Farmers then cannot also be forced to continue taking poor prices for producing a quality product.”
Concluding, Fitzmaurice said: “Over the past few days, I have spoke to a lot of farmers at the different protests. When you weigh up the money that is spent in the different towns and villages, the business people, merchants and garages – be they farm machinery or cars – must realise how important our communities are and how important agriculture is to these areas.
“Now is time that we must stand together as one in order to resist the headwinds that are facing rural Ireland, including climate change and the depopulation of some areas.
“If we want rural Ireland to survive, then we have to give respect to the people who are farming, working and managing the land. It is our decision to make; are we going to stand up and be counted or are we going to forever remember this as a time when we lost something hugely important to us – our community, our farmers and indeed a big patch of rural Ireland,” he said.
Michael Fitzmaurice TD – 086-1914565