Published: Tue, 15 April 2014
Sean Kelly MEP has called for an EU investigation into a possible breach of internal market competition rules by on-going practices across the Irish-British beef market.
Speaking in the European Parliament, Strasbourg (Monday), Mr Kelly said he has met with farmers in Ireland who are very unhappy with the practices of some meat processors and some retailers, which they consider to be unfair.
The MEP said the concern is that Irish farmers are being discriminated against. “Irish farmers are, in effect, getting 200 or 300 Euro less per animal compared to the English farmer for beef being sold in the UK. However, the UK consumer is still paying the same price for the product in supermarkets,” he told fellow MEPs.
Last year, Ireland exported over 250,000 tonnes of beef meat to the UK representing almost 70% of their total imports.
“Irish farmers have to fulfil strict criteria in order to qualify for what meat processors call a quality bonus payment of 12 cents/kg or an average bonus of €40 to €60 per animal for cattle that fulfil certain ‘quality’ criteria,” Mr Kelly explained.
“However, many see this as a penalty on all the other animals produced by Irish farmers. One criteria necessary to enable a farmer to achieve this bonus is having only four movements or less in the animal’s lifetime. Of course we know that smaller farms in Ireland often require several movements of animals on various farms before these cattle are finally finished on the last farm before slaughter.”
The 30 day restriction on movement was also cited by Mr Kelly as another barrier.
The South MEP said farmers have real concerns that the meat plants are using these additional conditions to subvert fair competition for livestock and ultimately control prices, by ensuring Irish farmers lose out on their bonus payment.
“The meat industry say the bonus payments are due to a customer requirement led by the large British multiples based on animal welfare concerns but what is happening could be considered market manipulation and a barrier to fair competition,” Mr Kelly said.
“While I welcome the move by Minister Coveney to convene a Beef Round Table of all players in the market, I nevertheless believe that the cross-border nature of the issue merits and investigation from the European Commission’s powerful Competition Directorate,” he added.
The MEP has raised concerns over the British-Irish beef price differential on several occasions before: “The UK market is the only European market where these effective barriers to free trade in livestock exist. Ireland is exporting 200,000 tonnes of identical beef meat to Continental Europe without the restrictive stipulations that have been introduced for exports to the UK allegedly for quality and welfare reasons.”
“These are very serious issues and raise numerous questions about the transparency and fairness of the internal market for beef farmers. I will do all I can to highlight this issue at EU level. The Single Market rules must be adhered to for the benefit of the entire food supply chain.”
Mr Kelly has also raised the issue of the uncompetitive ban on killing cattle from the Republic in Northern meat plants, as another possible internal market rules breach.
Mr Kelly met various farmer representative bodies alongside Jim Nicholson MEP last week.