Three market transparency studies undertaken by Grant Thornton and commissioned by the Department of Agriculture are crawling towards completion, having failed to meet multiple deadlines.

Two of the reports are now concluded and will be published on the Department’s website shortly.

The third and final report, on the price composition along the supply chain, is progressing, the eighth meeting of the beef market taskforce was told on Tuesday.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue said he hopes the reports will be completed soon.

“The reports will act as an important starting point for driving increased transparency.

“I would see these actions as providing a platform for further work on transparency, which will,= be carried forward by the new office of the National Food Ombudsman, which will be established later this year.”

Teagasc scoping exercise

Teagasc also presented on a scoping exercise carried out in relation to a cuts-based pricing concept. This presentation is said to have been received with interest by taskforce members.

The ICSA has said it is very keen that this option be further researched, but it must operate on the same basis as the dairy pricing model.

ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham said: “The current grid system was brought in on the basis of price neutrality which was a mistake and the subsequent increase in dairy-bred stock meant that farmers actually lost out overall.

“This cannot be replicated. If the overall national profile of cattle is better carcasses, then farmers overall need to see improved value returned to them.”

Severe disappointment

Severe disappointment was expressed by farmer representatives in relation to beef price developments over the last month and unhappiness with the explanation provided by Meat Industry Ireland.

Chair Michael Dowling asked Meat Industry Ireland to convey this message clearly to its members.

Graham said: “It is incredible that all meat processors implemented a uniform price cut at the same time, even though markets are going upwards.”

The ICSA insisted that the management of the main beef processors should be asked to attend the next meeting of the taskforce to explain the price cut in February and this was agreed.

Ombudsman legislation

Meanwhile, IFA president Tim Cullinan has called on the Minister to advance the establishment of the office of the food ombudsman and underpin it with primary legislation to provide full transparency in the beef supply chain.

“The commitment from the Minister to provide more powers to the office in primary legislation is welcome and important. A public consultation is due to be launched to identify the extent of regulatory powers the office will need.

“This must commence immediately. The Minister has committed to enacting this primary legislation before the end of the year.”

Lack of access

The IFA said that Grant Thornton informed the meeting that it doesn’t have the authority to access the information needed to provide a detailed appraisal of the value of Irish beef from the farm to the consumer.

Cullinan said the draft report by Grant Thornton fails to provide the details on the value of Irish beef throughout the chain because of these constraints.

Clear message

Macra na Feirme’s national president Thomas Duffy believes a clear message emerged from Tuesday’s meeting.

“Large questions remain for farmers on the future of the beef industry. The recent cuts to beef prices for winter finishers is clearly not justified when looking at the Bord Bia Price tracker.

“The question of market preference for bull beef remains virtually unanswered in the latest report by Grant Thornton.”

In a presentation made previously to the Beef Taskforce meeting by major retailers and sellers of Irish beef, only one retailer cited an unwillingness to stock Irish beef from under 16-month-old bulls.

“Under 16-month grass-fed Irish beef bulls are essential to both meet climate ambitions and to protect the Irish suckler sector. Consumer preference is often blamed, but there is little evidence of this in the report,” Duffy said.

Faith running out

ICMSA president Pat McCormack said there was no point in pretending that the meeting had made any kind of significant progress or breakthrough.

“We always try and engage constructively, but there’s no point in pretending that we’re any closer to the kind of meaningful changes that certainly we think need to be made.

“An example is the proposals around reviewing the Grid, which we’ve been calling for since the day after the Grid was introduced.”

ICMSA said a review should be concentrated on remedying year-on-year losses and identifying consumer trends in beef consumption.

“Any review has to look down the line five years and not just at the here and now. The other element that we expect solidarity and commitment on is the long-awaited appointment of this Ombudsman.

“No-one has any faith in vague recommendations or reports at this stage.”