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Taoiseach 'sympathises' with farmers as blockade of major Aldi distribution centre continues

Members of the Irish Farmers’ Association are staging a protest outside an Aldi distribution centre.

Updated Dec 5th 2019, 12:00 PM

THE TAOISEACH HAS said he sympathises with farmers who are staging a protest over beef prices outside an Aldi distribution centre in Naas, Co Kildare.

The protest by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) began at 7am and is expected to last for 12 hours. Farmers are blocking the entrance and exit at the site.

Speaking about the protest, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said prices during the summer were very low, but were still “pretty much of the European average”.

“Things have actually deteriorated since that, we find now that Irish farmers are getting a price for beef at the factory gate that is lower than the European average and that doesn’t seem fair to me,” he said.

“I think we need to give the Beef Taskforce a chance to do its work. But I don’t see any reasonable justification as to why Irish farmers should be getting a lower price than the European average when only a few months ago they were getting the average price.”

The facility where the protest is taking place is one of Aldi’s two national distribution centres – the other is in Mitchelstown, Co Cork – and delivers produce to stores in several counties.

‘Short-changed’

The IFA, the largest farming organisation in the country, said it is “demanding a significant and immediate beef price increase to bring the Irish beef price at least in line with the Bord Bia European Export Benchmark Price Index”.

The group has accused retailers such as Aldi of driving down food prices, with farmers being the ones who lose out.

IFA President Joe Healy said farmers are sick of “being short-changed” by meat factories and retailers.

“The supply chain is delivering mega profits for factories and retailers at the expense of farmers. We can have all the reviews we like, but farmers need a price increase now,” he said in a statement issued this morning.

Before any talks last August, we insisted that the retailers had to be present, but they refused to take part. They have a dominant role in a dysfunctional food chain and they have to be held to account.

Farmers in Ireland receive less money for their cattle than their British and EU counterparts. Irish prices are 20c/kg or €80 per animal behind the Bord Bia price tracker, and 50c/kg or €180 behind the UK price. 

“Farmers won’t accept any more stalling or a Mickey Mouse price increase. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be at the EU Export Benchmark Price.

“We will continue to take action until processors give a significant price increase,” Healy said in a statement.

There have been a number of protests by farmers outside meat processing plants in recent months, but this is the first blockade organised by the IFA.

The government’s Beef Market Taskforce held its first meeting on Tuesday. The group was set to meet in mid-October but was prevented from doing so after protesters blocked industry representatives from entering the Department of Agriculture.

Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

‘Extremely disappointed’

A spokesperson for Aldi said the company is “extremely disappointed” by today’s protest.

“We welcomed the resumption of the Beef Taskforce this week and have engaged openly with farmer representative organisations on the beef issue over recent months.

He said Aldi has received no request for engagement on this issue from any member of the IFA leadership.

He also said the company has not received any communication about specific concerns about the mechanics of the beef market, including age specification and no warning of any grievance the IFA had before this morning. 

“Aldi is fully committed to cooperating with the Beef Taskforce and met with the one of the representative groups, the BPM, as recently as last week to further update our position.”

The spokesperson said Aldi has initiated research on “a wide range of beef products to determine a number of issues”.

“We remain committed to reporting back through the Taskforce and playing a fulsome role in the process. Any action outside of this process is short-sighted and not constructive,” he added.

In an exchange, which was played on Morning Ireland, between farmers and truckers outside the Aldi facility one trucker expressed his anger at being blocked from entering the site. “All joking aside, have ye not cattle to be minding at home?,” he said.

A farmer replied by saying: “We have but what’s the point in minding them when we’re getting robbed in the factories? You’re unfortunately caught in the middle.” 

The trucker then stated: “The haulage industry is as bad as farming, it’s on a knife-edge the whole”, adding: “you’re stopping us from getting paid”.

The taskforce was agreed to by beef farmers and organisations, and representatives of the beef processing sector, in October following weeks of protests.

It’s one of a number of measures, along with a new bonus payment for quality assured cattle, which was set out in a deal brokered by Agriculture Minister Michael Creed. 

Farmers had accepted the deal in exchange for the meat industry dropping all legal actions brought against protesting farmers who blockaded the gates of processing plants. 

Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, IFA National Livestock Committee Chairman Angus Woods said farmers won’t tolerate the taskforce becoming “another talking shop” and that is “must deliver real results on cattle price and market transparency to quell farmer anger”.

- With reporting by Michelle Hennessy. 

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