Save our sucklers: sign our open letter
Open letter from readers of the Irish Farmers Journal to President Juncker, Commissioners Hogan and Malmström, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Michael Creed.

Dear President Juncker, Commissioners Hogan and Malmström, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister Michael Creed

In 2017, Irish beef exports totalled €2.5bn. The backbone of this industry is our national suckler herd. Traditionally standing at over a million cows, the suckler herd has been a vital generator of economic activity in towns and villages throughout rural Ireland.

There are over 100,000 Irish farm families directly engaged in the production and finishing of suckler-bred animals. Alongside this, the beef processing industry generates another 10,000 jobs. Many of these processing facilities are located in rural towns and villages where alternative employment is limited. Furthermore, with the beef sector sourcing in excess of 90% of its inputs from within the Irish economy, suckler farming is key to sustaining the economic activity that generates thousands of jobs in the agricultural inputs sector.

Overall the Irish beef industry has traditionally contributed more to the Irish economy than any other manufacturing sector. Economic analysis indicates that for every €100 in exports, the net foreign earnings from the beef sector is over €50. This compares to just €19 for other manufacturing sectors including modern economy sectors such as pharmaceuticals and ICT.

Unfortunately, suckler beef production is an extremely low-margin business. Within the EU, the suckler herd has largely been maintained through a combination of direct payments that underpinned production and trade regulations that ensure only beef produced to EU standards can enter the EU market.

Along with providing EU consumers with safe, high-quality beef, both measures reflected a long-held view at national and EU level that the suckler cow played an important role as:

1 An economic generator in rural towns and villages across the EU.

2 An environmental custodian across some of the most marginal land areas within the EU.

An analysis carried out by UCD on behalf of the IFA reinforces the role of the suckler cow as a wealth creator, showing that every €1 of support provided to suckler farmers generated over €4 of economic activity in rural towns and villages.

Unfortunately, we have in recent years seen a steady erosion in the level of direct support targeted towards the suckler sector. A recent analysis carried out by the Irish Farmers Journal showed that a typical suckler farm has seen the level of support received from both the EU and Irish Government fall by typically €200 per cow.

This lack of support has coincided with a growing appetite within the EU to undermine the EU beef market by allowing increased access to beef imports from parts of the world that do not have the same costs or production standards. Currently the EU is negotiating a trade deal with South American countries that, if agreed, would have devastating consequences for the EU and Irish suckler herds.

All this is taking place against a backdrop where EU and Irish beef farmers are struggling to cope with the consequences of Brexit. No sector within any member state is as exposed to the fallout from Brexit as the Irish beef industry. The UK market currently consumes five times more Irish beef than the Irish market.

The lack of profitability, due to the steady withdrawal of support from both Europe and the Irish Government and the uncertainty around the future of the EU beef market, due to ongoing trade deals and Brexit, is seeing the Irish suckler herd slowly starting to wither away.

Unless both the EU and Irish Government move to quickly inject confidence back into the suckler sector, then the pace at which farmers exit the sector will accelerate, with the financial consequences being felt far beyond the farm gate.

By signing this letter, I am calling on you, the European Commission and the Irish Government to recognise the important role that suckler farmers play in maintaining a vibrant rural Ireland by committing to:

1 A fully funded Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with the commitment to introduce targeted direct support for all low-income sectors including sucklers.

2 Protect EU and Irish suckler farmers in all upcoming trade deals and reject any demands from non-EU countries for increased access to EU beef markets.

3 Safeguarding farmers’ income both during and after Brexit negotiations through the implementation of market support measures.

4 Supporting the campaign for the introduction of a suckler cow support payment of €200/cow to underpin the sector and halt rural decline.

Eastern promises for Beef Plan Movement
A well-attended Beef Plan Movement meeting in Kanturk Mart heard of a potential export opportunity to Asia.

Over 300 people attended the latest Beef Plan Movement meeting in Kanturk Mart on Wednesday 12 December and heard of opportunities for exporting beef to Asia.

Speaking at the event, Cary Languirand offered a sense of hope to the Beef Plan Movement, saying he has access to contracts to take 20 containers of beef a month to China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Vietnam.

The moves would be subject to an independent abattoir getting clearance from the importing countries.

Farmers are getting hammered every day

Resident in Ennis, Co Clare, for 25 years, the American said the company he represents, Hong Kong-based Gloricent International, was looking to take both prime beef cuts as well as offal into the Asian market.

He said: "Farmers are getting hammered every day. The prices have collapsed and I'm saying, I'm prepared to pay a fair price.

I'll pay you that price

"If you're telling me the price you need is €5.15/kg or €5.20/kg, Okay, I'll pay you that price, I'll sign a contract to that price, but you're going to guarantee me that the amount I need is delivered each month and the consistency is there."

A reduction in production of 10% was suggested by a few farmers present, while the issue of too many dairy calves also arose.

Read more

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‘Beef industry on life support’
Adam Woods reports from the Ballinasloe meeting of the Beef Plan Movement.

The Department of Agriculture, Bord Bia and ICBF came in for heavy criticism at a Beef Plan Movement meeting attended by over 400 farmers in Balinasloe on Tuesday night.

“Our industry is on life support and the machine will soon be switched off if we don’t stand up and fight,” said David Whelan of the Beef Plan Movement.

Issues raised included profitability, live export restrictions, anti-competiveness and BDGP. The group now claims to have 12,000 members on WhatsApp.

“I’m here tonight to see where the priorities for this group lie. I want to see how they are going to amalgamate everybody together and make sure farmers don’t split up, because that’s what factories would love. I’ll stand firm and hold back cattle if I’m asked. I don’t want to see the suckler cow disappear from the west of Ireland” – Enda Keenan, Kiltoom, Co Roscommon.

“I have come tonight to air my views on the genomics scheme. The stars are not working on my farm and the quality of cattle is dropping in my local mart. I think the scheme was rushed in by Simon Coveney and the make up of the scheme needs to be revisited before it’s too late” – Thomas Daly, Athlone, Co Roscommon.

McDonald's to cut antibiotics in beef
The fast-food restaurant chain will tighten the use of antibiotics in its beef supply chain across a range of countries including Ireland.

McDonald's has pledged to reduce the use of antibiotics important to human health in animals used to produce its beef over the next four years.

The policy applies to the company's top 10 beef-supplying countries, including Ireland and the UK, and will involve three steps:

  • From the time of the announcement this Tuesday, McDonald’s begins work with supplying beef producers to measure and understand current usage of antibiotics.
  • By the end of 2020, the company will use this information to establish reduction targets for medically important antibiotics in the 10 countries.
  • Starting in 2022, McDonald's will report progress against antibiotic reduction targets.
  • The drugs to be restricted are those recognised as important for human health by the World Health Organisation, which risk losing their effectiveness and favouring the emergence of drug-resistant superbugs if they are used widely.

    Prevention rather than cure

    McDonald's policy principles state that the use of these antibiotics should not be permitted for growth promotion or prevention of disease and only exceptionally to treat sick animals when vets determine that no other option is available. "Where critically or medically important antibiotics are used for the prevention, treatment and/or control of clinical disease, the veterinary herd health plan should be reviewed and adjusted to employ tailored preventative strategies that will reduce the need for future treatments," the policy reads.

    Instead of using antibiotics, farmers should improve prevention, hygiene, animal husbandry and vaccination practices.

    However, "McDonald’s understands that reducing the overall use of medically important antibiotics in beef is complex and cannot be accomplished overnight", the company said in a statement announcing the phased approach to 2022.

    Ireland has one of the lowest antibiotics use rates on farms in the EU. McDonald's buys around 40,000t of Irish beef annually.

    Read more

    New antibiotic usage code sets out key questions for farmers and vets

    Veterinary Council tightens prescription guidelines

    EU Commission tightens rules on veterinary medicines