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'Farmers are keeping you in jobs': Farmers confront Bord Bia officials at Ploughing Championships

The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and President Higgins have also weighed in on the farming dispute today.

TWO OFFICIALS FROM Bord Bia were confronted by a group of farmers at the National Ploughing Championships in Fenagh, Co Carlow today and challenged over Irish meat being processed in the UK. 

The incident comes amid a continuing stand-off between meat processors and some farmers. 

Protests have been continuing at the gates of meat processing factories around the country despite a proposed deal being struck between the two sides at the weekend. 

It emerged last week that some retailers had sent Irish beef and pork for processing in the UK in order to maintain supplies on supermarket shelves. 

Announcing its decision to ship meat across the channel, Aldi said last week that all such products “are Quality Assured by Bord Bia”, adding: “This is clearly reflected on our products’ packaging”. 

Several farmers questioned officials at the Bord Bia stand on their involvement in the process, which is entirely within legislation. 

“You’re not supporting Irish farmers, you’re going completely against Irish farmers and bringing the beef out of the country and soon to be out of Europe so it can be processed in another jurisdiction,” one man said.

One of the men who challenged the officials said that farmers were “keeping ye lads in jobs”.

Bord Bia’s senior manager of meat and livestock Joe Burke – one of the two men questioned by the farmers – told them that the processing had been carried out in line with normal rules.

When products destined for British or EU shelves were being processed, often it was necessary to partner with a secondary processor in the UK for shelf-life considerations if a producer was seeking Bord Bia quality assurance, he said.

“You farmers own that quality mark,” Burke said.

The Bord Bia tent was closed off by security while the farmers quizzed the representatives over beef prices and regulations. However the exchange was, for the most part, calm and businesslike.

“It’s good that at the Ploughing we can have these discussions and answer these questions. We’re here to provide information to people,” Meat, Food and Beverages director Padraig Brennan, the other Bord Bia official at the centre of the exchange, told TheJournal.ie this afternoon.

Speaking about the deal struck after marathon talks at the weekend, Brennan said:

An agreement has been reached, accepted by farming organisations, but we need a good attempt to see if it works on the ground. It’s at least a step in the right direction.

He said ongoing challenges for farmers had “come to a boil” and that the issue had been triggered by the UK pound being weakened because of Brexit.

Deal 

Bord Bia is a semi-state agency tasked with promoting Irish food and horticulture, and with developing new markets for Irish suppliers around the world.

As part of the draft deal struck between farmers and processors at the weekend, the agency agreed to several new measures, including a ramping up of promotional activity for Irish beef across key EU markets and in China.

The agency said in a statement, in the wake of today’s developments at the Ploughing:

“Bord Bia is aware that, in order to secure the continued supply of Quality Assured Irish products to Irish consumers and international customers in the coming days and weeks, retailers have already, or may soon be in a position where further processing (eg; slicing, mincing or packing) of 100% Irish beef products takes place at approved Quality Assured facilities outside the Republic of Ireland.

“These arrangements ensure that Irish consumers have the option to buy Quality Assured Irish beef in Irish shops and that no other product will replace that while availability issues continue to impact certain retailers’ supply at this time.

We wish to reassure consumers the that practice is being carried out within Bord Bia’s Quality Assured Logo guidelines, and any products carrying the Bord Bia Origin Ireland logo have been verified 100% Irish meat, through a fully traceable Quality Assurance system.

Higgins intervention

Speaking at the opening of the Ploughing today, President Michael D Higgins said that he was concerned, and had been for some time, “at the vulnerability of primary producers” in the face of a retail environment “that is increasingly concentrated and dominated by a small number who may be exercising unfair practices that exploit the vulnerability of producers with limited outlets”.

Producers, he said, “can be the victims in the face of these tendencies, which distorts the relationship between producer and consumer, making sustainability difficult to be achieved”.

6670 Higgins Ploughing_90580024 President Higgins speaking at the National Ploughing Championships today. Source: Leah Farrell

Elsewhere today Taoiseach Leo Varadkar called for an end to the ongoing protests and blockades at meat processing plants. He was speaking in the Dáil, after TDs returned from their summer break.

Speaking at Government Buildings later this afternoon Tánaiste Simon Coveney also gave a stark warning to farmers, urging them to stop their blockade. 

The Cork TD, also a former agriculture minister, said he was aware of the frustration felt by farming families, but insisted the continuing protests had the potential to do irreversible damage to the sector. 

If that happened the people who would suffer most would be farmers, he said – urging the farming community to “take an interest” in trying to resolve the dispute. 

Your farming organisations have signed up to a deal and believe me they took a firm line and it was hard won. We now need to allow that agreement to take effect and to work. But by continuing to boycott factories we risk the loss of contracts, the loss of reputation and potentially a permanent damage to an industry that has taken decades to build into the size and scale that it is today.

Coveney said he hadn’t heard the President’s intervention in the row today but that he suspected Higgins had spoken in a way that “relates to the frustration of farmers, just like I’m speaking now. That’s what the President does. He’s close to people. He’s close to rural as well as urban Ireland.” 

He added: “Irish agriculture is going through a tough time right now, particularly the beef and sheep sectors and I suspect what the President said today simply reflects that.” 

- With reporting by Christina Finn 

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Grainne Ní Aodha and Daragh Brophy

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