The Government decided at its meeting of 19 January 2000 to establish an independent group to examine allegations of anti-competitive practices in the beef industry. The group were to report to me by 28 April 2000. However, the group requested extra time to carry out their investigation and I acceded to this.
I received the report of the independent group on 11 September 2000. The group's report concludes that they have found no evidence of anti-competitive behaviour either in the pattern of cattle prices or in profits. Indeed, the report states that there is evidence from various sources that on average the industry is one of low profitability.
The report also concluded that changes in retail prices are fully explained by the combined movement in farm-gate prices and post-farm gate prices and that there is no scope for alleged manipulation of prices by wholesalers and retailers.
The group also made the following recommendations: that an annual census of the economic performance of the food and drinks industry, as has been carried out in Northern Ireland since 1989, be initiated in the Republic; that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development should bring forward proposals designed to modernise the meat inspection system; that the status of collective negotiations, as sought by the farming organisations in the dispute that led to the Inquiry, be clarified in the context of section 4(1) of the Competition Act, 1991, and Article 81(1) of the Treaty of Rome; and that every means be used to promote integrated action in the food industry where farmer, processor and retailer work in harmony to meet consumer requirements.
Both myself and my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, informed Government of the report at its meeting on 20 September 2000. I published the report on 21 September 2000.
I intend writing to the Competition Authority to seek its views in relation to the third recommendation above and my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, intends bringing proposals shortly to Government in respect of the other recommendations.