1 Written confirmation for verbal contracts

The possibility of factories providing farmers with written confirmation of verbally agreed contracts is being considered by Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

One of the issues raised by the Beef Plan Movement was that farmers are in a vulnerable position when receiving a verbal quote from a factory. It called for the introduction of a binding quote sheet detailing the number of animals, the animal type, the base price and the agreed slaughter date. The Irish Farmers Journal understands that written confirmation between farmers and factories would work both ways if introduced.

2 Increased transparency around pricing

One of the major gripes among farmers with the beef industry is the lack of transparency between an animal being slaughtered and the beef appearing on supermarket shelves.

The Department of Agriculture said it would consider publishing a minimum to maximum range of factory quotes in addition to the average price.

Bord Bia has agreed to produce a paper outlining the potential development of a market index model by the end of August. This would be the beef equivalent of the Ornua purchase price index (PPI) for dairy products. It compares the market returns of dairy products to a base year price.

At EU level, a regulation which would provide for more detailed monitoring price data is currently being finalised.

A consultation later this year on unfair trading practices will also consider if there is a requirement for an independent grocery regulator.

Stakeholders also agreed that retailers should be invited to any future meetings.

3 In-spec criteria under the microscope

From early on, the Beef Plan set out its objections to the criteria factories use for farmers to qualify for the in-spec bonus. High on the list was the under 30-month requirement for steers and heifers, the 70-day residency requirement and the four-movement rule. The Department and Bord Bia committed to providing data on the portion of the kill that is under 30 months and under 36 months. It will also provide a breakdown on the share of beef from those categories and the proportion of beef for markets that demand under 30-month beef.

It is understood that this information will be provided by Friday.

MII said that the base price applied to all animals, regardless of age. It was agreed that where factories apply carcase weight limits there would be a minimum of four months’ notice before they were changed.

The Department said it would continue to negotiate market access to other countries without age restrictions. Bord Bia will also undertake work to provide detailed information on retail prices for beef in the UK and two key EU markets.

4 Farmer opt-out for factory insurance

Currently, farmers pay a nominal insurance fee for each animal they send to the factory.

MII confirmed that farmers are able to opt out of insurance fees on individual animals they send to the factory.

Insurance fees are individual to each factory, but typically amount to less than €5/animal depending on the type of livestock. If an animal is not suitable to enter the food chain when slaughtered, then the insurance fee will ensure the farmer is reimbursed.

MII is to provide details of the scheme to farm organisations this week as part of ongoing talks.

The Department is also to provide information on animals condemned at ante or post mortem before the end of the week.

5 Carcase images and factory scales

Many farmers have long-sought an image and appeals system for cattle sent to the factory.

Carcase images are to be made available on request to farmers as part of a resolution pact between farm organisations and the MII.

There was also unanimous agreement among farm organisations that animals should be weighed in-factory prior to slaughter.

Factory members

On this issue, MII said it would have to consult with factory members and revert to stakeholders with a decision.

The introduction of an appeals system for manual carcase grading is also to be examined.

6 Grid review decided by stakeholders

Farm organisations and the meat industry agreed to a review of the beef grid.

Draft terms of reference are to be circulated and stakeholders will have a week to decide upon them.

Teagasc has been recruited as part of the process to provide scientific evidence on the difference between conformation and score classes.

Once the Teagasc findings are made available, farmers and processors will have a chance to come to independent decisions about the grid.

A review of hot and cold weighing will also be included in the review. This involves the weighing of the carcase before and after it goes into the cold store in a factory.

Typically, a carcase weighs 2% more when it is “hot” before it enters the cold store.

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