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ICOS claim meat plants subverting market

Wednesday, April 09 11:00:02

Irish meat factories are subverting the free trade of livestock between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland and into the UK, ICOS alleged today at a meeting with the European Directorate for Competition.

The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society claim that meat plants are controlling and manipulating pricing and they are actively discriminating against livestock marts.

The ICOS position was backed up by the Northern Ireland Livestock Auctioneers Association who attended the meeting with DG Competition in Brussels.

The IFA also attended the meeting and ICOS had also previously consulted with the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association and Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, prior to making its statement to DG Competition.

Michael Spellman, Chairman of ICOS National Marts Committee said, "Livestock marts provide the only modern day competition to the factories and that is why the factories are attempting to stifle the live trade by placing a stranglehold on live cattle sales in both jurisdictions and on a cross border basis."

"For reasons best known to themselves, Irish owned meat factories have demanded adherence to onerous conditions around the movement of livestock and which have no basis in terms of regulation or quality and no justification on animal welfare or veterinary grounds."

In its submission, ICOS stated to DG Competition that: "There is an effective ban by Irish owned meat plants in Northern Ireland on killing live cattle from the Republic of Ireland. Irish (ROI) controlled meat factories in Northern Ireland either will not slaughter an animal, or they will impose a 150 fine per animal, if any farmer presents an animal for slaughter that was born in the Republic of Ireland."

In a further penalty, factories in the Republic will not pay a 12 cents / kg "bonus" (i.e., approximately E60 per head of cattle) if an animal has moved through more than 4 farms. That penalty is 150 per head in Northern Ireland thereby subverting free competition and trade for livestock, it alleges.

Irish factories will also not pay 12 cents / kg "bonus" if an animal has passed through a livestock mart within the last 70 days. In Northern Ireland, this penalty applies to animals traded in livestock marts in the last 30 days and a fine of up to 150 can apply.

Irish factories have also developed very large owned and rented feedlots (animal storage areas for factory feeding of cattle prior to finishing). These can have tens of thousands of animals present to reduce demand through increased supply at peak times.

ICOS also cited the example of US legislation being enacted to outlaw meat processors from owning beef feedlots because of the distortion to trade.

Michael Spellman, Chairman of ICOS National Marts Committee said, "The factories are levying abbatoir fines on livestock even though these livestock are compliant with the relevant regulations in both jurisdictions."

"Through their 'conditions', the factories are interfering with the free trade of cattle in livestock marts where it is common practice, while adhering fully to all animal transfer and traceability regulations, for an animal to be sold from farm to farm as it moves from youth through fattening and onto slaughter. They are seeking to circumvent the marts system which enables free trade between farmers and a true reflection of the value of livestock."

"Frequent livestock transfers are a well understood characteristic of the Irish farm sector, because many smaller farms are not able to take cattle through the full process from birth to slaughter. They sell them on to the next appropriate farm with full traceability. The livestock marts are the conduit for this live trade between individual farms. This benefits everyone in the livestock industry and it ensures a fair and open price."