Equitable Beef Pricing Bill 2020: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to ensure the provision of an equitable price for beef to farmers operating in that sector in order to ensure that it is a sustainable means for them to earn a livelihood; and to provide for related matters.

Many farmers in the country are finding it increasingly difficult to survive. Teagasc reckons that a third of farmers are currently making enough income off their farms to make a living. Another third of farmers are only able to survive because somebody is working away from the farm to supplement the farm income. A full third of farmers are making a loss and going into poverty. In fact, many of them are being pushed off the land. It is clear that the industry is not functioning at present. The industry is structured in the most anti-competitive way. It operates as an oligopoly. A small number of producers exert enormous control over the sector. The beef barons and producers can control every aspect of the market, such as the price and all the conditions of sale. In addition, supermarkets are making supernormal profits from the beef product. However, the primary producer in this country is getting a price which, in general, is below the cost of production. It is estimated that if the European grant funding for this sector were removed, most beef farmers would be making a significant loss.

Aontú is introducing a Bill which, for the first time, will force beef barons to pay a price that is either at or above the cost of production for a period of a year. It is to force the beef barons to the table to make a real and honest effort at negotiating a market that functions for everybody. The worst aspect of this market is the poverty it is engendering across the 130,000 beef farmers in the country. If we continue down the route of further concentration of power in the hands of the beef producers and supermarkets, there will not be a functional sector in the future. Successive Governments have presided over this issue. Indeed, the Fine Gael Chairman of the last agriculture committee said it was unreasonable for farmers to expect a price above the cost of production. It is an incredible statement from anybody whose job is to represent farmers. However, I have heard the current Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, echo those views, that it was not reasonable for farmers to expect a price above the cost of production. Any agriculture Minister with that view is likely to come to the same solution as has been achieved so far, which is a dysfunctional and broken market.

This is not the only threat that farmers are facing. The Government has opened its arms to the Mercosur trade deal which will pave the way for cheap South American beef to be imported into the EU market. I will be speaking on climate change policy in a few hours. It is incredible that we are opting for seeing swathes of the Amazon rainforest felled so beef can be produced there and transported to Ireland to be a substitute for Irish beef, and for an Irish Government to preside over this.

I travelled the country last year and I stood with pickets outside beef factories. I spoke to the small farmers. Some of them were threatened with injunctions by these beef barons because they were standing up for their right to try to achieve a better price. Indeed, I went to the High Court to defend these farmers. It was extraordinary to have beef barons level injunctions at farmers who are in poverty. One beef baron is Larry Goodman who earned €170 million in total last year and has assets worth €3.5 billion. He is tax resident in Luxembourg and pays an average tax of 2.5%.

The Taoiseach must see the grave injustice that exists in this market. The response of successive Governments has been to sit on their hands. This is the second time this Bill has come before the Dáil. On the previous occasion it fell when the previous Dáil fell. When I first brought it forward, Fianna Fáil said it would support the Bill.

Fianna Fáil candidates left, right and centre stood in all the different factories across the country when the farmers were out in force. The eyes of beef farmers across the country are now on Fianna Fáil Deputies to see what they will do with this Bill. Will they vote against it and stop it going any further, on to Third Stage, or will they grasp reform with two hands and run with it?

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

As this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.