FARMER and former TD Michael McNamara is supportive of the Beef Plan protests and is holding back his own cattle.
“I have cattle that are fit to kill and I’m not moving them. I’m going to hold them until this strike is over, one way or another. Whether they are under 30 months or over 30 months, I’m going to hold them,” he said.
He expects things could become even more tense at the front lines of the protest, as he predicts that the “big companies will do everything they can to break the strike”.
Mr McNamara slammed the Competition Authority for not looking closely at what is happening in the beef industry.
“The only investigation the Competition Authority in Ireland has carried out in relation to price fixing was that they raided the IFA offices. The Competition Authority in Ireland is a joke and I’m happy to be on the record to say they are a joke. They’re like other public bodies in Ireland; they always go after the easy targets.”
Intervention from the State is badly needed, he feels, but he doesn’t expect it to come easily. “Michael Creed, because he and Fine Gael are believers in laissez faire economics, will say ‘well, that’s the markets for you’. But the markets can’t function normally if there isn’t healthy competition in the market. And there isn’t and there won’t be unless and until the Government intervenes in the sector.”
He said that in other countries, it is much clearer where the money generated goes and despite agreement some years ago that Ireland would make moves in this direction, nothing was done.
“Unlike other European states, we don’t even currently know who gets what share of the profit. When I was on the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee in 2013, we produced – with cross-party support of all parties in the Dáil – a report calling for a code of conduct for the grocery goods sector with the force of law and that legislation should be introduced to force the publication of profits and turnovers of the large multiples and large processors operating in this country.
“The committee also recommended a price observatory system, as currently exists in France, Spain and Belgium, which should be closely monitored to bring about more equitable pricing structures.”
Mr McNamara added, “Despite the agreement of all the parties in the Dáil – reflected in the report saying that it was ‘imperative that the primary producers, who are being squeezed out of the market, must be protected’ – nothing happened”.
He said that there had been intense lobbying by large processors and retailers to prevent action.
Beef is now loss-making for the vast majority of farmers, he said, even if those not feeding the animals on grass may be doing better.
“Feed lots throughout the country may be perhaps breaking even or making a small profit but the beef that is coming out of those feed lots, they are cattle that might never have felt the grass under them or seen the sky over them.
“That’s not the image that is being marketed abroad. The cattle that are being marketed abroad are grass-finished cattle that are walking freely in the field, which the vast majority of Clare farmers are producing.
“What’s being marketed abroad, the Irish beef product, is being marketed off the image of what is being produced in Clare but yet they are being forced to operate at a loss because the factories are moving into this feedlot model, which is an entirely different product.
“The Government will say ‘oh what can we do?’ but this is a Government that believes in laissez-faire economics, clearly. They’re not interested in helping farmers in the West of Ireland; they just want them to get out of their way.”