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Laois Councillor calls on Agriculture Minister to establish an ‘Independent Meat Regulator’ with statutory powers

A Laois County Councillor has called on the Minister for Agriculture to establish an Independent Meat Regulator with statutory powers.

Fianna Fail Cllr Padraig Fleming made the call at today virtual meeting of Laois County Council.

Cllr Fleming says the purpose of such an independent regulator will be to have legislative powers to investigate anti-competitive behaviour by meat processors, meat traders, retailers and other bodies, who operate along the supply chain and to protect primary producers.

He wants a regulator with real powers is required to get a fair share of the retail price for farmers. And he made the case on behalf of the Beef Plan Movement.

He said: “The Beef Plan Movement recognises the facility in the programme for government for the appointment of a national food ombudsman and they welcome this appointment.

“As you may be aware, the Beef Plan Movement has from the outset, sought clarity, transparency and accountability from meat processors and retailers on their activity in the supply chain and the distribution of resulting profits along the supply chain.

“To date and since the formation and recognition of the Beef Plan Movement Association they have not identified any form of cooperation between stakeholders to provide the required accountability and transparency.

“Members of the Beef Plan Movement have held peaceful protests, have engaged in beef sector negotiations and Beef Market Task Force meetings, where the appointment of ‘an independent meat regulator’ has been brought up for discussion but has failed to be entertained, discussed or debated in these forums.

“The Beef Plan Movement is disappointed that such an important position has not been debated by Task Force stakeholders or within the houses of the Oireachtas. The Beef Plan Movement is requesting that a bill for the
appointment of ‘an independent meat regulator’ with statutory powers is drafted.

“All primary producers of meat must be protected and treated fairly. Accountability is absent, fair trade is absent and co-operation by stakeholders in the quest for accountability and transparency in the meat supply chain is utmost as an agenda item by their association.

“It is an injustice to all farmers, citizens of the Irish state, rural dwellers who support our rural economies, which in turn is the foundation of the national economy.

“The Beef Plan Movement respectfully asks, that all protective parameters are put in place to protect our farmers, primary producers and present them with equal opportunity and prepare to legislate for ‘an independent meat regulator’.

“Their members, our constituents, the constituents of all public representatives request full accountability and absolute protection from unfair trading practices and anti-competitive behaviour in the supply chain.

“There is a constitutional right to protect farmers, citizens and to ensure that they have a fair living from their employment. The Beef Plan Movement feel that it is of huge significance to identify, to respect and to provide vital income for these essential workers.

“Farmers deliver food products to every kitchen table on this island and to many other countries across Europe and the World. Cattle and sheep farmers are caught in the stranglehold of a system that requires immediate reform.

“Without reform within the meat industry there will be a breakdown in the supply chain and trust will never be rebuilt between producer and processor.

“County Laois has over 1000 beef producers and over 480 dairy farmers, all of whom need the protection of a regulator, to ensure their businesses remain viable and to protect the fabric of rural life and the viability of many businesses throughout Laois.

“The Beef Plan Movement are calling on all County Councillors, TDs and all farm organisations to push the formation and the appointment of an ‘independent meat regulator’.

“They are now at a critical juncture, whereby family farms can no longer be subsided by an off farm income and EU subsidies in order to supply the processing and retail industries with “below the cost of production” produce.

“To supply produce in this way to multibillion industries is discrimination and the Beef Plan Movement wishes to have this matter addressed publicly, non—unilaterally and fairly.”

In support of Cllr Fleming, Cllr Aisling Moran said that a regulator could also examine how workers are being treated in plants – especially in light of Covid-19 outbreaks in such places.

She said: “Another consideration here is the fair treatment of the workers in the meat processing industry.

“It has become evident over the last year, through Covid outbreaks, that these people are living and working in substandard conditions.

“This is a human rights issue, these people are brought in from poorer countries, paid less than minimum wage and put living in substandard accommodation. They are being exploited, treated differently to the way Irish citizens would be treated.

“If we are looking for improvements of standards in the meat industry, then it has to extend to all areas of this industry. If meat factories can pay their workers less, then of course they can sell their product for less.

“By stopping this practise, it will make the factories employ staff at minimum wage, as is the law of the land.

“If the regulator is responsible for making sure that all parts of the meat industry have the same rules, therefore making it a level playing field and the farmers doing the majority of the hard work are treated with the same respect therefore getting more money for their part in this supply chain.

“So I totally support your motion.”

Laois County Council will now write to the Agriculture Minister on the issue.

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Stradbally native Alan Hartnett is a graduate of Knockbeg College who has worked in the local and national media since 2008. Alan has a BA in Economics, Politics and Law and an MA in Journalism from DCU. His happiest moment was when Jody Dillon scored THAT goal in the Laois senior football final in 2016.