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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Vol. 1007 No. 6

Independent Beef Regulator: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:


— the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future acknowledgement that beef farmers have experienced serious hardship and low-income challenges in recent times;

— the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future commitment to ensure fairness,equity, and transparency in the food chain by establishing a new authority called the National Food Ombudsman (NFO) to enforce the European Union (EU) Directive No. 2019/633 on Unfair Trading Practices in business-to-business relationships in the agricultural and food supply chain;

— that the beef sector:

— supports more than 70,000 beef farmers;

— supports 10,000 jobs across processing, distribution and transport; and

— is worth approximately €2.5 billion annually, and that the vast majority of this income remains in the rural economy;

— that Ireland is the fifth largest net exporter of beef in the world and the continuation of commercially driven unfair trading practices should not be used as a means of safeguarding this status;

— that small farmers and factory workers are being exploited by some Irish beef processors; and

— that beef producers are routinely penalised by processors through the targeted operation of stealth and opaque price fixing practices; and

calls on the Government to:

— recognise that the continuing centrality of the beef sector to the rural economy, and its role in generating fair farm incomes, requires a new and imaginative approach;

— accept that existing regulatory and competition protections have proven themselves to be manifestly inadequate with respect to protecting beef farmers from unfair price distortions, delivering credible levels of industry transparency and a just price to the beef farmer;

— accept that an NFO will not be able to give the kind of specific sectoral focus needed to identify and address the chronic price challenges imposed on farmers by the beef industry;

— act on the acknowledgement in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future of the important and unique role that the suckler sector plays in the beef industry by committing, in consultation with suckler farmers and their representatives, to the establishment of an independent beef regulator, with powers to compel and conduct independent audits of Meat Industry Ireland affiliated factories, in order to maintain and protect farm livelihoods from meat industry exploitation;

—empower the independent beef regulator to address, through statutory measures, the structurally embedded power imbalance created by the de facto monopoly of existing processors and retailers; and

—ensure, in the interests of maintaining a level playing field, that, should the EU-Mercosur trade deal be ratified by the EU, Mercosur beef sold into the EU must be produced under the same standards, regulations and controls as those imposed on EU beef producers.”

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important motion calling for an independent beef regulator to be set up. I thank my Rural Independent Group colleagues for bringing forward this badly needed motion. I also acknowledge the work and collaboration of the farming organisations which have contacted all Members in the months since last year's general election. I thank them for their time and expertise and for engaging in discussions on this issue. I also thank staff members, Mr. David Mullins and Mr. Brian Ó Domhnaill, who work with the group, and I commend them on the hard work they have put into the motion.

The motion is focused. It is about achieving fairness and embedding in statute a commitment to price justice for beef farmers. In no other business or sector would we see producers running at a loss. I am aware of many beef and suckler farmers in my constituency who are running at a loss. It does not seem right or fair and it is an injustice that must be corrected. We are calling on all Deputies, rural and those outside rural areas, to support the motion. It is about justice and fairness. We do not need more tokenistic measures. We do not need an ombudsman which will not have powers to conduct audits of factories associated with Meat Industry Ireland. We need real change. The only way we will achieve that is through the establishment of an independent regulator with robust powers to stop once and for all the scandal taking place in this country.

We have 70,000 beef and suckler farmers who contribute greatly to our economy. I would go so far as to say they are the backbone of the rural economy but they are being treated very badly. The primary producer is the one that is not benefiting or gaining any sort of profit from their high quality produce. This country has a great tradition in beef and suckler farming and produces one of the highest quality products in the world, yet our farmers are not being fairly rewarded for their hard work, sacrifice and dedication. Farmers are being taken for granted. There are also issues around food security. Our food producers deserve fair play. That is what the motion is about and I call on all Deputies to support it.

The Government needs to accept that many small farmers and factory workers are being exploited by some Irish beef processors and that beef producers are routinely penalised by processors through the targeted operation of stealth and opaque price-fixing practices. They are in a no-win situation and that must change. To address this, we are calling on the Government to recognise that the continuing centrality of the beef sector to the rural economy and its role in generating fair farm incomes require a new and imaginative approach. More important, however, we need the Government to finally accept that existing regulatory and competition protections have proven manifestly inadequate with respect to protecting beef and suckler farmers from unfair price distortions, and delivering credible levels of industry transparency and a just price to the farmer.

This weakness in the current levels of protections is already recognised at the European level. If it were not, there would be no need for the introduction of measures such as the unfair trading practices directive. That in itself is a clear acknowledgement that farmers and those on the producing end of the food chain are routinely exploited. There is no other word for it. This exploitation has gone on for decades and must end. If the existing protections were strong enough or were even being enforced, such directives would be redundant. As it is, they are being ignored with impunity. Farmers are sick to the back teeth of the lack of transparency in how prices are set.

The Minister has commissioned three separate reports from Grant Thornton on this issue, at a cost of over €120,000. These reports have been rejected by farmers and bodies such as the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, and Irish Farmers Association, IFA. Only Meat Industry Ireland is happy with them and that tells us all we need to know. When Meat Industry Ireland is happy, there is a serious problem.

In March last, the IFA forcefully rejected claims by Meat Industry Ireland that beef farmers receive 80% of total sales revenue earned by processors. This was after the independent report by Grant Thornton was presented to members of the beef task force. Meat Industry Ireland claimed that “false assertions were made and prominently circulated that farmers only get €2 for every €10 spent on beef by a consumer.” However, as the IFA, ICSA and others have repeatedly made clear, even Grant Thornton admitted to the beef task force that it does not have the authority to access the information needed for a full and independent appraisal of the value of beef at all points in the supply chain. This is exactly the problem. Other serious deficiencies have been identified by independent farmers, including that processors do not pay for the fifth quarter, despite its value. Processors trim the fat from carcases and penalise the producer, yet separately they sell the same fat for €200 per tonne. Processors penalise producers if carcases exceed weight restrictions, yet they keep the excess weight and sell it. Processors do not pay farmers for the slaughtered animals' blood which has a very significant value for use as a protein source.

As part of the disease eradication scheme, significant numbers of cattle are being removed from farms at the expense of the taxpayer but are being gifted to feedlots to boost their profitability. All of this makes clear that the meat industry is presenting a front around compliance and transparency but no such price transparency exists. We know it, the meat industry knows it and, more importantly, the farmers know it.

Have things changed? No, because the meat industry in this State has been for some time a de facto cartel and a monopoly of extraordinary power and reach.

That has to change. The protected status of the industry and the inability of farmers and politicians to properly hold it to account must come to an end. I have seen at first hand how difficult it is for new operators to enter the market, including in my constituency in relation to the proposed Banagher Chilling project. In March of this year, I highlighted this issue and noted that considerable anger and frustration was emerging following the confirmation from An Bord Pleanála that it was not in a position to determine the outcome of an appeal related to the Banagher meat processing plant. An Bord Pleanála indicated it had yet to receive the inspector's report on the appeal, which was due by 1 March, and that this made it impossible for a determination to be made on the case. This latest setback is totally unacceptable and unjustified, particularly as the board had been due to make a decision as far back as 4 January. Several months later, no progress has been made and no information is available on where progress lies or what will be done.

This inadequate and inefficient operation and the inefficiency of An Bord Pleanála deepens the perception that any attempt to open up the meat market, whether in the midlands, Offaly, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork or Kerry will be subject to endless delays and bureaucratic nonsense and obstacles. I have repeatedly made it clear how important Banagher Chilling could be in terms of stimulating the local rural economy, expanding market competition and making County Offaly attractive as a site capable of generating inward investment, which we badly need. However, none of that appears to be registering with An Bord Pleanála in the slightest. It seems to be a law unto itself and doing its own thing. At this stage, the entire process is actively working against not only our local interest but also clear commitments in the programme for Government that beef farmers and the beef sector would be supported.

Less than ten days ago, the Minister stated that his Department's statutory responsibility in the context of meat plants is merely to approve slaughter plants in accordance with the European Union (Food and Feed Hygiene) Regulations and, after that, to ensure that approved plants operate in compliance with the EU's food hygiene legislation and animal health and welfare standards. He also said the Department cannot, in carrying out this process, take into account issues such as the concentration of ownership of inputs to processing, as it is outside the scope of this remit. That was a telling admission that there is no more power within the Department to ensure animal welfare than there is to ensure the economic welfare of farmers who produce the animals. That is also why we are not directing this motion at one Department only, but at the Government. This requires a whole-of-government approach because it touches on issues such as justice, financial exploitation and competition law, as well as agricultural policy.

I accept the Minister has made several commitments to transparency, particularly in terms of the establishment of a national food ombudsman. In his remark here last week, he stated he wanted to see such an office established or “something similar.” That "something similar” reference is not what we in the Rural Independent Group want. When the Minister was in opposition, he called on the Government to put an independent regulator in place. I do not know what has happened the Minister since that time. Since he went into the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, he has come up with a tokenistic measure, which is not good enough, does not cut it and will not be accepted by farmers because it will not have enough power.

We want a regulatory body with proper statutory powers capable of compelling audits on Meat Industry Ireland factories and making enforceable recommendations to that industry. We want a regulatory body that the industry cannot just choose to ignore or engage with as it sees fit. The Minister has accepted that the additional powers to be assigned to the new office by primary legislation go beyond those in the unfair trading practices directive and that they are currently the subject of public consultation, which closes today. We are told this new office will have a specific role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland. This is exactly what the Department and Bord Bia already do, so what is to be gained here, apart from tokenism, duplication and cost to the taxpayer? The public consultation seems, yet again, to be more concerned with giving the appearance of action and with tokenism than with changing how structures operate in this State.

As Mr. Edmund Graham, the beef chair of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, stated only last week, the lack of co-operation by some players with the Grant Thornton report on price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain is also undermining the beef task force. The obvious conclusion to this is the need to establish a regulator, rather than just a food ombudsman, with the power to compel all actors along the food chain to co-operate. The ICSA was right to say the Grant Thornton report has laid bare the dysfunction within the sector. While the report was looking for where the margins lie along the food chain, it appears that those beyond the primary producer mark want to keep those margins hidden. It is a power imbalance we in the Rural Independent Group are seeking to address and set right. To that end, I hope our motion receives cross-party support.

It is with pride that the Rural Independent Group brings this Private Members' motion forward on behalf of the beef sector. The beef industry supports more than 70,000 beef farmers and 10,000 jobs across processing, distribution and transport. The industry is worth approximately €2.5 billion annually and the vast majority of the income remains in the rural economy. The price of feed for animals has risen by 25%, with recent increases in EU import duty on beet pulp and molasses.

One of the schemes put in place to help farmers was the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, with 12,600 farmers applying for 2,000 places. Some 63% of those were beef farmers, depending on this to boost their income. The scheme was one of the partnership approaches by the Government to help farmers addressing climate change challenges and biodiversity. Are we actually serious? There were 12,600 applicants for 2,000 places.

I ask the Minister to look at the regulation of the beef industry. The Minister cannot be seen to regulate the market but he can investigate the failings of the market. For instance, there are not enough processors in the market. Will the Minister bring in an independent gatekeeper to the industry, not a paid passenger? The industry needs someone who, ultimately, will help our farmers and primary producers. The regulator needs to be given real powers and resources to oversee the sector and make direct recommendations to the Government. This needs to be a fair competition. Market transparency and just prices must be given to the beef farmer. What farmers have been put through from every angle is beyond reason. The EU is looking for 100% convergence, which will not happen. A more realistic figure is 75%. The Minister cannot bend on this. In the programme for Government, there was a commitment that carbon tax would be ring-fenced for new environmental scheme similar to REPS. When regulation comes in regarding agriculture, it is important that viable farmers are not compromised.

The Minister must work with the beef farmers to bring them into the consultation process, and not just as spectators. He needs to acknowledge that they have a meaningful contribution to make. Many of the farming bodies have acknowledged that we need a proper definition of a farmer. For example, we need to define what an output-based, genuine farmer is.

The fair deal scheme requires farm families and small business owners to put aside 7.5% of the value of their land or assets annually to pay for the care of a family member. This will completely deplete the asset and there will be nothing left for the next generation.

Everything that is happening here is putting farmers' lives and the lives of the next generation at risk. Everything is increasing. There have been 12,600 applications for 2,000 places. Fuel has increased by 25% since last year. Bringing in the harvest costs more. Everything costs more. Farmers, particularly beef farmers, need to be protected. I stated in the Dáil 12 months ago that we needed a beef industry regulator to look after the regulation of prices. Beef farmers always get the lower price and the feed farmers always get the highest. I asked the Minister to check the books not on an annual basis but on a monthly or quarterly basis to find out who is getting the highest prices for beef. Let us have transparency across the entire beef industry.

As I open the debate on the Government side, I do so, first, as the son of a suckler farmer in the midlands who has lived the experience that many of the Deputies speaking today say they are aware of. I grew up on a family farm that supported me in life and gave me the key opportunities to realise my ambition and supported me to do that. I have also experienced the late nights and long days of hard work and frustration on our family farm. Over the decades, through the 1990s right up to now, I have seen the many challenges and crises that have faced family farms. To this day, even though my father is well into his 80s, I volunteer to help him each week on our family farm. While many Deputies are aware of those experiences, I have lived them.

I wish the delegation, the Minister and his officials, the very best in the coming days in the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, negotiations. It is vital for our country that these negotiations are successful. I welcome the input that the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, and their departmental officials have made and the dedication they have shown.

The Government is very aware of the challenges faced by the beef sector and the sector’s importance to our economy and society. To put the value of the sector in context, the Irish beef sector comprises more than 78,000 specialist cattle farms, generating €2.3 billion in output and representing 16% of total agrifood export value in 2020. This reflects the comparative advantage afforded to Irish beef production by extensive grassland coverage. Beef output also has a high multiplier effect of 2.5 in Ireland. The sector plays a significant role in rural development and provides major employment in regions where fewer alternative economic opportunities exist.

In recognition of this vital contribution the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine continually monitors the market situation for beef and other agrifood commodities. This allows the Department to identify severe market disturbance so that the Minister can respond as necessary and where possible. A good example of such a response was the €50 million provided for the beef finishers payment last year under the Covid-19 temporary state aid framework. The beef finishers payment provided support for beef finishing enterprises which were most affected by the market disturbance caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in the first half of 2020.

On a wider level, the Department provides a range of financial aids to support beef farm incomes and to support economic and environmental efficiency. The core dedicated support for the beef sector under the outgoing rural development programme is the €300 million beef data and genomics programme, BDGP. In addition to this support, €200 million of additional supports were made available between 2019 and 2020 specifically for the beef sector. These included the beef exceptional aid measure and beef environmental efficiency pilot schemes in 2019 and the aforementioned beef finishers payment and the beef environmental efficiency programme, BEEP, scheme in 2020.

In budget 2021, €85 million was allocated to specific supports for sustainable beef farming. This includes over €40 million for the extension of the BDGP during the transition period before the next CAP and €45 million for the 2021 beef sector efficiency pilot that was launched earlier this year. Work is under way on the development of supports for the sector under the next CAP which will be aimed at further supporting the economic, environmental and social sustainability of beef farms in Ireland.

A key commitment in the programme for Government is the establishment of a new authority expected to be called the national food ombudsman to enforce the unfair trading practices directive. Pursuant to that commitment, the process for the establishment of the national food ombudsman is under way. A public consultation process will inform the Government’s consideration of the remit and powers to be assigned to that office.

In April, the Minister signed Statutory Instrument No. 18 of 2021, which sets out the regulations to give effect in Irish law to EU Directive No. 2019/633 on unfair trading practices in business-to-business relationships in the agricultural and food supply chain. These regulations will come into effect from 1 July 2021 and will apply to agreements for the supply of agrifood products. One of the key principles of the unfair trading practices directive is to protect farmers and other, weaker suppliers of agricultural and food products from stronger buyers. These regulations will help to provide that protection and are a significant step in moving to a more even playing field for our agricultural producers.

Pending the establishment of the new office, the enforcement authority required by the directive will operate in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. The authority will have the necessary statutory powers to investigate complaints, carry out investigations on its own initiative and initiate legal proceedings for breaches of the unfair trading practices prohibited under the directive. The establishment of the new office will require primary legislation. When established, the new office, the remit of which will include the beef sector, will have a specific role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland, and will also incorporate the unfair trading practices enforcement authority functions. In addition to establishing the new office, the primary legislation may introduce rules that go beyond those included in the unfair trading practices directive.

A public consultation on the primary legislation needed to establish the new office of a national food ombudsman or regulator was launched late last month and closes today, 26 May. All submissions made under this process will be considered. The Government is committed to delivering an office that will bring much-needed transparency to the sector, and that will ultimately help both our farmers and consumers. The Government is also fully committed to ensuring fairness, equity and transparency in the agricultural and food supply chain.

I take this opportunity to restate the Government’s position on the acknowledged need to ensure that any negative impact the EU-Mercosur trade deal may have on the Irish beef sector is minimised. Ireland has consistently raised concerns about the negative impact that an agreement would have on the EU’s agriculture sector, particularly the beef sector. The Commission has stated that it will make funding available to assist farmers with the challenges of market disturbance which may arise as a result of the deal. The Commission has also engaged the London School of Economics to carry out a sustainability impact assessment on the EU-Mercosur free trade agreement. This final report was published on 29 March last. In addition, the final economic and sustainability impact assessment for Ireland is due to be published shortly. We await this assessment with interest.

Portugal currently holds the EU Presidency. The Tánaiste has held discussions with his Portuguese counterpart in which he stated Ireland's insistence on additional, robust and legally enforceable commitments in respect of environmental compliance being added to the agreement.

These commitments on the climate change responsibilities of both parties should include a sanction regime for non-compliance with sustainable development goals responsibilities which could include removal of preferential tariff rate quotas, TRQs.

Regarding beef sold into the EU from non-EU markets, there is a legislative framework in place to ensure imported products meet standards equivalent to those required for production and trade between member states. Food products placed on the European marketplace are covered by a range of legislation designed to ensure products supplied to consumers are of the highest safety standards. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine plays a part in the enforcement of this legislation along with competent authorities in other member states, other Government Departments and State agencies such as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Health Service Executive.

The import of products of animal origin from third countries is governed by a comprehensive and robust legislative framework laid down at EU level, controlled by member states in the first instance and audited by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Food Safety to ensure compliance with all the relevant safety standards. The legislation imposes health and supervisory requirements designed to ensure imported products meet standards equivalent to those required for production between member states. This comprehensive and robust legislative framework and the checks carried out by the relevant competent authorities across EU member states ensure imports meet the requisite standards.

I acknowledge the sector has a major beneficial effect on the rural economy. I know that more than most, as I said at the start of my contribution, in particular in providing employment and supporting incomes in rural parts of Ireland. This is an issue the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has spoken about many times in the past and will continue to do so in supporting this sector. As I said, it is a key requirement and ambition of the Government to ensure the viability of our family farms. In working with the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, and others, I will do my utmost, having lived that experience, to ensure that comes to fruition.

I am sharing time with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae.

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak on behalf of the people I represent, namely, the small rural farmers throughout County Kerry, from Poulgorm Bridge through Kilgarvan, Kenmare and Sneem to Valencia Island. They are basically suckler farmers supplying top quality calves to beef finishers and fatteners around the country. The best of calves leave Kenmare, Cahirciveen and the marts in Castleisland, Listowel and Tralee for beef finishers in the rest of the country. These suckler farmers play a key role. They work very hard and produce top quality calves. They stay up all night when cows are calving and theirs is an onerous job. They have the breeding of animals down to a fine art.

Our 70,000 beef farmers are continuously being put under pressure by the factories when they decide to reduce the prices. These farmers are the backbone not only of rural areas but the whole of Ireland. More than 10,000 are involved in the processing industry, which is worth more than €2.5 billion to the economy.

The factories are blackguarding the beef producers and finishers. With regard to the four-movement rule and the 30-month rule, as I asked the previous Taoiseach, when an animal is hanging up in a factory who will say it is 31 months old or moved through farms five or seven times? These are ridiculous rules but I know what they are about. Their purpose is to give the factories the data so they know when the animals will be coming to them. They then have animals to match out of their own feedlots and they can bring down the price the farmer should get. This is what they are doing and it is controlling the prices.

I appreciate that the Minister of State said he is a farmer’s son. I am also a farmer’s son and a farmer, having been farming all my life. I understand what people have to go through day and night. When we overcome everything else we still have to contend with the weather, as we are doing currently. Fertiliser, feedstuff and diesel costs have gone though the roof, but we will not see prices in factories matching that. I remind the Minister of State that prices have gone down in recent days.

We are calling for a beef regulator to be established to ensure farmers are properly paid. A beef regulator could also find out what is happening with the retailers. The retailers are saying they never sought a four-movement rule. It is of no benefit to them and nor is the 30-month rule. I appeal to the Minister to get rid of those two rules. The factories have no divine right or authority from anybody to do this. I ask the Government to remove those two rules. Farmers have gone through too much.

We need to give greater care and protection to producers and consumers to ensure our emerging international trading environment continues into the horizon. Farmers are under threat from Mercosur and from New Zealand and Australian exports. We hear the English are doing a deal with the Australians. We are supplying the greater part of our beef production to the UK. If we lose that market, farmers will be put under more pressure by the factories.

I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure we open up new markets for live cattle exports, notwithstanding what the Green Party has been saying. Farmers are being victimised and treated like eco-criminals. The Tánaiste is supporting a vegan diet. Everything is down on the farmer. I appeal to the Government to take a stand and show whether it is standing with beef farmers and small farmers in rural Ireland.

I thank the Minister of State and appreciate and acknowledge his feet are firmly on the ground in this matter. I thank Deputy Carol Nolan, Mr. David Mullins, Mr. Brian Ó Domhnaill and all those who helped us to bring this motion before the Dáil. It is very important. The regulatory system in place is not working. Farmers, especially beef farmers, are being let down. Farmers work hard to make sure cows are in calf and the calves are safely delivered, and enough things can go wrong when a cow is calving. Nothing tends to go wrong in normal hours. It is always in the middle of the night when help is scarce that something goes wrong, like a calf being born backwards. Every type of misfortune known to man, woman and child can befall a farmer and they all happen at the wrong time.

All farmers want is to cover their costs and make a modest profit. That is all any farmer wants but beef farmers are not being allowed to do that. If we consider the cost of maintaining and keeping a cow alive for 12 months, the price a farmer will get for a calf and every other entitlement that applies to that cow, it will not make money for the farmer. Everybody knows that, and it is wrong. All anyone selling a pint of Guinness or a pound of ham or doing a day's work wants is a fair price for what he or she is selling or a fair day's pay. Farmers are not getting that.

More than 80,000 beef farmers are directly or indirectly involved in the production of beef. The beef industry is worth between €2 billion and €3 billion annually.

Let us take the high cost of feed and the proposals that are coming before the Dáil at present. Unfortunately, the Minister, his party and his partners in government all seem to think that the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill and its implications for the farming community will not make a difference. I do not see how they can think that. If farmers are struggling now, how does the Minister think they will fare out when they find themselves bearing the brunt of the burden of the extra charges, extra taxes and extra restrictions? We should remember that this is the Government that is seriously telling farmers that in 2027 when they are spreading slurry, they will have to agitate it by electric means and they will have to spread it by electric means. As I highlighted here previously, that machinery is not in production yet, not in this part of the world anyway.

What we are saying to farmers as well is that we are trying to restrict and reduce the herd here at a time when we cannot make money out of what we are doing and at the same time in South America they can knock down and destroy the Amazon forest, plant grass and feed their animals so they can send them up here in the same way as the bales of briquettes are coming from Germany today while, down the road here, Bord na Móna is closed. Where is the commonsense in that? I will never forgive or forget what the Government is standing by and doing, whether it is to Bord na Móna, the farmers or the fishermen.

I acknowledge that the fishermen are protesting in a flotilla today. They are gone from Dingle, Cahersiveen and around the coast of Kerry, as well as the rest of the country, to protest in a flotilla. What are they protesting about? It is to make an honest living, the same as the farmer with the cows, calves and beef. What do they want to do? They want to make a living. If they cannot understand that in Europe, surely be to God the Government and the Deputies elected here, to a man and woman, should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the farmers of Ireland. We should be saying regulation must be put in place to protect them. The factories should be taken on for the monopolising, demonising and terrorising of farmers because of the way they are controlling the price of beef. It is true to say that the blackguarding that goes on and the regulations that are in place are purposely set up to keep down the price of beef. That is what it is all about. Let us look at the four-movement rule, for instance. It is the biggest load of nonsense and baloney that ever was put in place to try and hurt farmers. I would like the Minister to answer that and to explain it.

I commend the Rural Independent Group for bringing this motion to the House. I also commend Deputy Nolan for leading on this important issue. I confirm that Sinn Féin Deputies are happy to support the motion.

The Irish family farm stands as the bulwark of rural Ireland. The family farm network remains the main economic driver of our communities. In times of economic downturn we turn consistently to farmers and they never let us down. The success of family farms is a success for us all. When a small farm in our constituency makes a profit, it is not siphoned off to a tax haven or distributed in shareholder dividends, it is spent in the local community, the hardware store and the grocer. It goes to the local GAA draws, the local farm contractor, the local pubs and restaurants. The problem increasingly is that farmers, in particular beef farmers, are not making a profit to redistribute in communities. Farm incomes have remained static at best for more than two decades and successive Governments have simply allowed the position to worsen. For the past five years, Sinn Féin has called for radical reform to deliver for farm families, in particular in the beef sector. We have outlined what I have described as the three Fs – a fair CAP, fair play and fair prices. We now know that there will not be a fair CAP. Irish farming has been sold out in that regard. By the end of the next EU budget cycle Ireland will be paying an additional €1 billion into the EU budget every single year, but the CAP budget will be significantly reduced in real terms. That is all in the context of Irish farmers being expected to do more and to receive less.

I am disappointed that some stakeholders and media outlets have failed miserably to stand up against the Government or Phil Hogan when this sell-out happened, and the CAP cake was being shrunk, who now at the last minute are agitating and pitting farmer against farmer as to how the cake should be divided. I say categorically to the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, and his colleagues that it would be an absolute scandal in the context of the shrinking budget if any single individual or enterprise is still receiving more than €100,000 in farm payments at a time when most farmers are struggling to survive on a fraction of that. The time for an upper limit payment of approximately €60,000 per annum is now. Most Irish farmers today are producing more food to higher standards than their parents but with less income to show for it, while at the other end we see that produce being used as a loss leader for large retailers who alongside the processors are making ever-increasing profits. Therein lies the big secret of Irish agriculture: that there is money to be made in beef. The problem is that the money is not going to the people who are doing all the work, our local family farmers, it is going to the Larry Goodmans, the factories and the multinational retail giants.

Farmers cannot work together for fear of injunctions from factories or warnings from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, yet in the meat industry we see increased consolidation all the time and decreasing competition and everybody, apart from the Government and its agencies, knows that there is wholesale collaboration between the factories on prices and that there is, in effect, a cartel in operation. They can make the rules such as the 30-month one or the four-movement one. They can call them bonuses, when everybody knows that they are actually penalties, without any logical basis and they can operate without an ounce of transparency. The situation is compounded by corporate structures whereby in one instance a factory is owned by at least five unlimited companies registered in states as varied as the Isle of Man and Luxembourg. They can strengthen their hold on the sector through the use of factory feedlots and without even blushing, the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, can say his Department has no analysis whatsoever on the impact they have on prices or the environment.

The EU directive on unfair trading practices does not go far enough. So far, the Government's implementation of the directive does not go far enough. What we need is a regulator with real teeth to hold the factories and the retailers to account. I am not that pushed on what name we give to such a regulator, but it must have the power to address unfair and imbalanced trading relationships within the sector and additional powers to investigate and the ability to level real penalties on the factories that are bleeding family farmers dry. That is the least farmers expect and deserve and that is the litmus test for the Government.

This is a welcome opportunity to discuss unfair practices that our farmers have been subjected to for years, while all the time their concerns have been ignored, allowing the meat industry to take them for granted. We have seen farmers continually disadvantaged at every turn, despite the efforts they made through their representative organisations or in some cases, by themselves, when they took to the streets of the capital and demonstrated outside meat factories. Yet, as we have seen, a hands-off approach has been taken to the meat processing industry. This has been evident in the demands made of farmers and the prices they traditionally get from the processors. When penalties are wrapped up and presented as bonuses, then we know that there is something inherently wrong.

Let us take the 30-month rule which was introduced in response to the BSE crisis. It still remains in place, despite wide understanding that it is outdated. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has washed its hands of dealing with this demand and the impact it is having on farmers. Then there is the four-movement rule, which the processors alone seem to dominate, and which is not something demanded by Bord Bia. It is just a way for those in the meat processing cartel to prevent farmers from having some level of say over price. I will take these two in-spec demands for a moment. The term bonus is a misnomer as in reality it is just a way to ensure that penalties exist in order to pay them less. They are not legitimate rules: that is why the Department does not oversee the implementation of these decisions. Instead, they allow cartels to pay less for animals that do not fall into these categories. All the time the meat industry benefits and is shrouded in secrecy.

During the pandemic we have seen some of the practices that have been ongoing in some of these factories. We have seen reports outlining major concerns about safe working conditions. Secrecy has surrounded concerns about Covid outbreaks. In September of last year, I became aware that Covid testing had been suspended at all meat factories due to the need for testing resources to be put elsewhere.

This was despite the fact that, only days before, a cluster of the virus was discovered at a factory in my own county. In nearly every way we can imagine, different rules seem to apply to meat processing factories. Most recently, this became apparent when Meat Industry Ireland made claims that farmers receive 80% of total sales revenue earned by processors. This was laughable considering that Grant Thornton, which undertook the study on behalf of the beef market task force, was refused data by Meat Industry Ireland.

Thank you, Deputy.

These are the reasons Sinn Féin has been calling for the establishment of an independent meat regulator which would have real powers to ensure transparency and to enter and search, seize documents and records and summon witnesses, and have the ability to demand information from third parties. What we need is an independent authority which has a remit over price reporting. Our farmers got us through the worst periods of recent times - the recession and Covid. We owe them better than what they have received to date.

There will be less time for the other speakers. I call Deputy Kerrane.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion, as someone who has grown up on and lives on a beef farm. In recent months, as the marts went online, it has given a great insight into what happens when farmers go to the mart. For example, on many days I had to write down the weight and the price that the cattle were getting during the bidding when I went to the mart. The farmer literally has to look at the price and take the decision as to whether to take them home or just let them go when the bid is well below the value of the cattle. Of course, it is different when they go to the factory because, once they are killed, the price is the price and the farmer has little say.

It is hard to watch farmers breaking their backs, day in, day out. The price of meal and fertiliser has gone up, and they are up day and night, calving cattle. Added to that is the pressure of inspections. I see my own dad and I know that, especially in recent months and years, he just wonders if it is worth it any more. He is not the only farmer to think that and, in fact, some farmers have already closed the gates. They give everything and then they see the factories do whatever they like and get away with it.

The Government is not doing enough. It is not taking enough action and these farmers need it to take action. As mentioned, the four-movement rule and the 30-month rule are perfect examples of that. The Government has washed its hands of that and said it is just commercial practice.

What we need is a beef regulator with teeth, and this has been said by farmers over and over again. I am at a loss as to what has changed because the Minister himself previously called for this. If the Government does not take action in regard to a beef regulator, more and more farmers will close their gates. It will literally be the end of a generation in farming the land because the young people will be gone. They will have no choice but to leave because there will be no income unless the Government takes action.

I will put it very succinctly to the Minister. We need a beef regulator, we need the 30-day rule abolished and we need the four-movement rule abolished immediately. They make no sense whatsoever. I thank Deputy Carol Nolan and the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward the motion, which is crucial for the people I represent in Mayo.

Profits from small farms are passed on to local businesses, services, equipment manufacturers, suppliers, the construction industry and a myriad of supply companies and businesses which are all directly or indirectly beneficiaries of money generated on farms. Unfortunately, the supply chain is broken, fragmented and disconnected, and it suffers a serious lack of trust between many of the stakeholders. It undoubtedly needs attention.

We need an independent beef regulator with proper powers. The factory bonuses, the 30-month rule and the four-movement rule are designed, as Deputy Matt Carthy said, as penalties. For God’s sake, do not insult farmers’ intelligence by telling them they are bonuses. They are penalties. Why do we still have them in place? Who was asking for them to be put in place? Farmers do things that make sense to them. These rules make no sense whatsoever and the only beneficiaries are the factories and processors. The same factories are controlled by barons who operate under unlimited companies and there is an appalling lack of transparency that would not be tolerated anywhere else. What are they hiding, we have to ask.

Beef farming is in a constant battle for survival. These farmers face the constant threat of being the sacrificial lambs of the climate change Bill in the move to reduce stock numbers. The farmers are playing their part in addressing climate change and they are willing to play their part in the future. All they need is fair play. We are well-placed to produce the finest quality beef in the world, with exceptional environmental credentials, grass-fed and extensively grazed stock, as part of an agricultural ecosystem developed over thousands of years, mixing livestock and crops managed as family businesses in harmony with the environment, not the huge feedlots or monoculture that we observe in many parts of the world. However, I have a word of caution for the Government. A healthy ecosystem, a healthy environment, birds, fish, trees and wildlife will not guarantee the survival of the family farm. However, a healthy, profitable farm can guarantee the survival of a healthy ecosystem.

I commend Deputy Carol Nolan and the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward the debate. Since I was elected in 2016, I have been involved in discussions around the whole issue of beef farming, the beef sector and the suckler sector, which are at the core of Irish farming and the family farm. All of us know the food we produce in Ireland is of world-class standard, from the family farm and from grass-fed, free-roaming animals, traceable from farm to fork. It is unique in that respect. Yet, the farmer, the person who puts in all the effort, gets the least reward. That is something that has jarred, not just with the farming community, but with the general community for many years. People want to see the farmer, the primary producer, getting a fair deal.

This motion focuses on the whole idea of a food ombudsman and a regulator - somebody to ensure the factories and supermarkets are held to account, which is vital and needs to happen as quickly as possible. However, we also need a fair deal and a restructuring of the process to take place. The whole system needs to be turned around so we can provide a proper income for Irish farmers which reflects the unique product they produce, particularly in the beef sector.

We also, of course, have the issue of CAP and the problems around all of that. What we can see coming down the road is that Irish farmers in particular are losing out, which should not be happening given the position of the agricultural sector and the vital role it continues to play, not just for the farming community, but for the wider community. As has been said by others, when the Irish farmer is prosperous the rural community is vibrant. That is what we need to put centre stage in all of this. We have to make the Irish farmer prosperous. We have to ensure that small family farms can be viable into the future and they will not be viable if they do not receive a fair price for their produce. Getting a fair price for their produce is the core of what we need to do. There are other issues which need to be dealt with and they can be dealt with in another setting, but getting that fair price requires the Government to hold the beef industry to account.

That is not to say the Government has a direct role in setting prices, and we all understand that cannot happen. However, it has a role in ensuring the industry is fair, works for everybody and provides for the farming sector. Putting a proper regulator in place which not just monitors the situation, but actually has the power to go in and ensure penalties can be put in place where unfair practices are happening, is vital.

The issue is not just in regard to providing for CAP and all of those issues; the issue is centrally with the Government. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is not just the Minister for the food processing sector, but is the Minister for the primary producer as well, and he has to stand up and defend the primary producer. That has failed to happen and continually fails to happen. I hope that, as we move forward from this debate, the Minister will step up to the plate and recognise that this is his role, and that he will deliver for the Irish farming sector.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion, which is the continuation of a long stream of activism to protect the viability and interests of the small to medium-sized beef farmers, and I want to focus in particular on farmers in County Clare. For far too long, there have been extremely unfair trading practices that have disadvantaged small-scale beef farmers. Traditionally, Ireland is a nation that prides itself on the quality of its agricultural produce, exporting 90% of its beef produce to the value of €2.4 billion in 2018, and has garnered a great international reputation accordingly.

The fact the Government was supposed to transpose an unfair trading practices directive that sought to strengthen the bargaining position of small-scale farmers but has yet to do so is concerning. This directive allows for the nomination of an enforcement authority, with a view to preventing the cartel-like behaviours that have long afflicted the supply chains in the sector, consistently putting small-scale farmers at a disadvantage and leaving them struggling to compete with the unjustifiably low prices that larger suppliers can offer.

I support the motion and the move toward establishing a regulator. Many stakeholders feel the remit of a national food ombudsman would dilute the function and scope of this agency, and call instead for the introduction of an independent meat regulator.

I believe an independent meat regulator is needed but it must be one with real teeth that can genuinely investigate and mediate in respect of the level of control of big processors. It must be able to hold factories and processors to account. It is absolutely 100% necessary.

Small farmers are the lifeblood of this nation. They must be protected by the Government. I call for the Government to meet the programme for Government commitment to ensure this new regulatory agency has a remit for transparency, price reporting and market analysis.

I thank Deputy Nolan and the Rural Independent Group for moving the motion. The importance of the agrifood industry to our economy cannot be overstated. Previous speakers have said that the beef sector supports more than 70,000 beef farmers. There are approximately 3,000 in County Kerry alone. The sector supports 10,000 jobs across processing, distribution and transport and is worth €2.5 billion. Most important, the money is spent locally. It is spent on the local concrete men when buying drainage. All the local suppliers benefit from the farmers.

Farmers are under pressure at the moment with the price of diesel and the results-based environment agri pilot project, REAP, scheme. The programme has been praised as working well but farmers have great concerns about it. Beef farmers do all the work here but they are the least fairly paid arising out of it. I echo the call of my colleague, Deputy Carthy, other Sinn Féin speakers and others for a properly independent regulator for this sector. A fair price would do much to help small farmers plan yearly income and outgoings rather than being left at the mercy of fluctuation in prices.

Intervention in markets is necessary to ensure they function properly. Farmers in County Kerry and elsewhere have been subject to unfair conditions for far too long. The beef regulator must be empowered to make the rules and penalties and enforce them. It must be able to carry out audits in meat factories and retailers. However, the evidence of what has taken place during the Covid-19 pandemic does not fill me with hope.

I wish to comment on the Mercosur beef deal. Beef sold into the European Union must be produced under the same standards, regulations and controls as those imposed on producers in Ireland. I heard the Minister say the negative impact must be minimised. That is only stating the obvious. The time is right now for an upper limit to be imposed.

Beef producers have been penalised for years by opaque fixing prices. I echo the comments made in respect of the four-movement rule. I was speaking to a farmer in Ballymacelligott in recent days who said the four-movement rule and the 30-day rule are nonsensical and must be abolished.

I support the motion and congratulate Deputy Nolan and her colleagues on bringing it before us.

Members should spare a thought for the many fishers who are in Cork at the moment. A flotilla has arrived in Cork Harbour. I wish to acknowledge the wonderful way in which they have organised the event. They are primary producers as well, of a fashion, and are deserving of our support and attention. I hope they will be successful in their travails throughout the day and that they will get to meet the Taoiseach.

There is an elephant in the room in respect of beef, namely, the current negotiations between the United Kingdom and Australia on a zero-tariff and zero-quota agreement that could be concluded next month. My understanding is they are teeing it up for the G7 summit in Cornwall. I am fearful about that deal because it will have major consequences for Irish primary producers, including Irish beef and sheep farmers. If the deal concludes, the permutations are such that it will allow Australia to ship beef and lamb without tariff to the United Kingdom. I am really concerned about how that will impact on Irish exports to the UK. Notwithstanding the current travails in respect of Brexit, I am fearful that the conclusion of such a UK-Australia free trade agreement would have even more untold and negative consequences for Irish primary producers. I am keen to hear the Government perspective on this deal and what kind of forward planning the Government is doing to mitigate the effects for Irish farmers.

We know the nature of farming in Australia. They have factory farms to all intents and purposes. If they are able to export to the UK it will have dire consequences for United Kingdom farmers and for Irish farmers. We wish to know the permutations, what real-time planning is taking place and what mitigation measures the Government will undertake to ensure Irish farmers are supported. If there is a significant loss of income and loss of what is a vital market, what is the Government doing to offset that potential loss? We have to hear from Government on its plans in that regard. It is a vital issue and one deserving of attention. It speaks to the heart of the motion before us today.

I wish to raise the issue of market access to China. Will the Minister outline the status of export beef to China at present? It would be useful to know the value in euro terms and the status of our trading relationship with China at present in respect of beef exports. It is a growing market and a vital one, given the primacy of Irish beef. I hope we will not be locked out of that market for too much longer. It would be useful for Irish farmers in the export game to know the status of that market. It would be useful for them to know where the Government is at present in its diplomatic efforts to restore and enhance that market.

We need to hear from the Government in respect of the Common Agricultural Policy. We know that many farmers will farm to schemes. We know there is an inevitability about the fact that climate action measures will be writ large across the next CAP agreement. The agreement has to come on the basis of ensuring financial supports for farmers. We must be honest about this. If there is to be an incentive provided for farmers to move into agri-environmental schemes supported by the Government and the European Union, then there needs to be clarity on what that means and what the permutations will be for farm incomes. I refer to farm incomes for the type of farmers we are discussing today, namely, farmers who are farming on a marginal income and who are wholly dependent on a market price. They will need continuing subvention to support their incomes if they are to be guardians of the countryside, to use the often-quoted phrase. Incentives will have to be provided to ensure that income is supplemented where loss of income is perceived or projected.

I will speak briefly to the reality of where the market is at present. I understand that the export benchmark price that was negotiated, discussed or landed upon in the context of the beef sector agreement is currently, at 2020 prices, approximately €3.55 per kilo. I am told that the Bord Bia prime cattle price for exports was approximately €3.56, or effectively 1 cent more. I would like to hear from the Minister where the Government sees the projected price of beef being one year from now, taking CAP and the UK-Australia agreement into account. What are the future projections and what plans is the Government making to ensure there is adequate support for the sector and individual family farms?

In the early 1990s, the beef tribunal examined serious allegations of political influence relating to alleged abuses of the system and failure of regulatory authorities. Its conclusion highlighted widespread improper relationships between the beef industry and the Government. It also stressed the lack of regulation and the impact of that on the sector.

Today, 30 years later, what has changed? We still have a system that makes a small few people incredibly wealthy at the expense of farmers. The system is still designed to work for the beef barons while small farms fade away and young farmers have no choice but to pursue other careers but the Government is not addressing that.

I welcome this motion to ensure that farmers are treated fairly by the industry. The need for proper regulation and oversight to protect farmers and for workers is crucial. I thank the Rural Independent Group for bringing forward this motion. The Social Democrats are in full support of it. I know the Rural Independent Group Deputies and we do not agree on some issues, but on this matter we are in complete agreement.

The least we can expect is fair pay for fair work. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the beef sector, as all Members know. We all know that small farmers and factory workers are at the mercy of an industrialised system. We all know about the cartel-like practices in the beef processing sector. In light of this common knowledge, the response of the Government has been abysmal. Ministers and backbenchers will claim they are representing farmers but, when it comes to tackling the beef sector, it is literally all bluster with no substance.

The beef task force, which is the response of the Government to the protests, is rightly criticised for its lack of progress and slow pace. The issues affecting small farmers are immediate but the solutions are always somewhere in the distant future. Representative organisations and members of the beef task force are expressing their frustration. They are seeing little impact after 18 months, with the major systematic imbalances remaining. The official reports are not sufficiently addressing the concerns of farmers. Moves for greater transparency are being met by farmers but practices within factories remain obscure. It is worth noting that it was agreed on the establishment of the task force that a regulator would be part of the discussion but it is yet to get on the agenda. Confidence in the effectiveness of the beef task force is eroding by the day. Without substantial intervention by the Minister to bring change that will be felt by farmers, it will fail.

The system is essentially rigged. The beef barons win every time and the average farmer loses slowly. It does not matter how many cattle you have, you will still lose out. This issue was never about the national herd; it is about prices farmers get. Follow the money. The problem is not environmentalism or the consumer and it is not farmers or workers in meat plants. Rather, it is the small few who are profiting off the back of farmers and factory workers. We need the Government to change tack and show us it is on our side. We need real State intervention and an independent meat regulator.

The motion rightly calls for an "independent beef regulator to address ... the structurally embedded power imbalance created by the de facto monopoly of existing processors and retailers". The scale of the beef sector and its structural inequalities mean that the proposed national food ombudsman will be unlikely to adequately deal with the issues. All Members know that. The Government has to recognise it. It has to establish an independent beef regulator with statutory powers to oversee and, crucially, to intervene in the sector. Anything less will fail another generation of farmers. An ombudsman operates within existing frameworks. In this scenario, it will be operating within existing failing frameworks. Although it is vital work, the sector needs a regulator, an independent office that can introduce sectoral codes of conduct and enforce legislation. This regulator needs to be producer-focused. Primary producers and small retailers can see and feel the absence of regulation to protect them.

In the meantime, current regulating authorities could have greater oversight of the sector. For example, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has stated that there is no evidence of a cartel at work in the beef industry but the experience of many farmers - of everybody involved - is to the contrary. A full investigation by the commission into practices in the industry would be a welcome move. It is worth noting that there used to be a law preventing below cost selling which protected primary producers and small retailers but it was repealed in 2005 by the then Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and now Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin.

The motion also highlights the plight of workers in meat processing plants. Regrettably, the scale and persistence of Covid-19 outbreaks in these factories further illustrate the underlying issues in the sector. The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland described the disgraceful practices to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response last summer, stating that "the meat sector is difficult and dangerous. Repetitive strain and workplace accidents are commonplace." Many meat factories do not offer sick pay beyond the statutory rate, which impacts on workers' income and choices about when to return to work after an injury or illness, or even during the current Covid-19 crisis. In addition, there are many migrants working in the industry, with non-EU workers’ residency depending on their job. They have limited access to social welfare and some 10% of them have very little or no English. These workers are incredibly vulnerable. We have to consider whether the treatment of a large number of migrant workers in this sector contributed to the conditions that facilitated the Covid-19 outbreaks.

The poor treatment of farmers and workers is intrinsically linked. It shows how industrial-scale meat processing treats people - farmers and workers. Farmers receive prices so low they are forced to protest again and again to save their family farms, while workers, especially the more vulnerable ones, are left open to infection. Principles of fairness and equity are very clearly lacking in this industry. It is not too much to expect that farmers get a fair price and that workers have safe working conditions. It is large-scale meat plants that are the issue here; it is not migrant workers, farmers or small abattoirs. It is obvious that the industrialisation of practices in the sector has increased the vulnerabilities of most stakeholders.

The beef industry has been described as a de facto monopoly where the market is dominated by a few large buyers. This concentration of power gives buyers considerable power over producers. The scale of the sector in terms of the national economy gives a handful of companies substantial political influence. Unless we tackle these fundamental issues, nothing will change. We need the State to step up and address these imbalances. We need an effective regulator, proper working conditions and fair prices.

Other Deputies have spoken about growing up on a farm and experiencing this first hand. I join with those Deputies. On my family farm, we are slowly winding down out of beef because it is completely unviable. The entire structural imbalance of power that I described is what people are experiencing on the ground across rural Ireland every day while contemplating whether to bother staying in the industry. When we see the demise of those small farms and they are all bought up by big dairy farms, that is when we will see the real demise of rural Ireland.

People Before Profit welcomes this timely motion tabled by the Rural Independent Group. One section of the motion in particular is most welcome, specifically, "that small farmers and factory workers are being exploited by some Irish beef processors; and that beef producers are routinely penalised by processors through the targeted operation of stealth and opaque price fixing practices".

The lessons of Covid in particular have highlighted the extreme exploitation and failings in many areas of society.

The failings in the meat plants are among the most acute, as is evident from the conditions of the workforce of the meat industry. There is a striking contrast between the enormous profits of corporate beef processors, such as Larry Goodman, who has been mentioned, and the earnings of the small farmers who supply them and the salaries of the workers in the factories. The inability of the State at all levels to protect the workers during Covid was raised here last year by us but our concerns were dismissed as if it were some kind of treason to question the meat industry. One of the former Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine really chastised us for questioning the sector.

In one factory alone, 60 out of the 100 workers who tested positive for Covid had contracted the virus because they worked in a chilled air environment in which air was recycled to keep the food cool. It was argued that such conditions are unavoidable within meat plants but we have seen recent evidence from architect Orla Hegarty that while it is necessary to chill the air, it does not need to be recycled. The levels of infection were so high because the air was being recycled. It was a cheaper way to maintain the temperature in the factories. It is all about costs and cost-cutting. That is what drives the companies’ profits, and the profits drive up the rate of infection. The refusal to grant sick pay was driven by the need for profit. The refusal to give a decent and fair price to farmers at the gate is driven by the same desire for profits. Furthermore, State policy in this area, namely Pathways for Growth and Food Harvest 2020, is all informed by the major processors and retailers, not the farmers. State policy is designed according to the business interests of the big processors and retailers, not the interests of farmers. This creates an environment allowing anti-competitive practices. We saw recently how Larry Goodman has bought up even more of the smaller meat producers.

We cannot have a sustainable agriculture sector dominated by these corporate companies and we cannot have a response to climate change that allows this dominance to continue. We cannot sustain rural Ireland or rural farming communities with this model, which grants to some massive and largely tax-free profits but leaves farmers struggling and workers sick. In addition to needing a regulator with a strong input, we need strong unions. We need unions in the factories that will stand up against the gross exploitation of the workers, insist on proper, safe conditions and appropriate pay, and address the outstanding issue of making sick pay available to all workers. Together, workers and farmers have the same interest in releasing the grip of the corporate giants in the industry over their livelihoods. Together, they can work towards a just transition to complement climate mitigation.

I welcome the debate. Everybody in the House agrees it is time to see more transparency in terms of understanding our agrifood sector overall and the challenges facing primary producers in particular and also understanding how what we make finds its way to end markets and the supply chain considerations in that regard. There is a need for a significant review and analysis of the agrifood sector, but particularly of the challenges facing the beef sector.

We have had significant discussions in the House in recent weeks on sustainability. This is the new buzzword in our economy. Environmental, social and economic sustainability are referred to. What do they actually mean? Addressing the environmental challenges that revolve around greenhouse gas reduction and the intensification of our agrifood sector seem to be in opposition. We can understand social sustainability as what I would describe as the retention of regional and rural Ireland, with a vibrant and viable economy. Economic sustainability is the ability of Ireland Inc., as an exporting nation, to be competitive in exporting in the future. The beef sector has 70,000 beef farmers and there are 10,000 involved in processing. The sector is worth over €2.5 billion annually to the Exchequer. Ireland is the fifth largest producer of beef in the world. We have an important agri-sector and the beef sector is important in its own right. There are questions over who controls the market, however. It is certainly not the primary producers. Is it the processors? They have a part to play but I suggest to the House that a significant part of the problem is what the retailer and consumer are prepared to pay for the end product. I worked in the meat sector for several years many years ago and understand fully the difficulty in trying to market internationally. The end price is largely dictated to the consumer by the multiples and through their activities. Those in meat processing are subject to meat brokerage and meat arbitrage. Some meat cuts lie around for 12 months before they are sold. People have to understand that there are significant costs within the supply chain.

Rather than welcoming the appointment of a regulator, I would welcome the appointment of a food ombudsman. This was highlighted by the beef task force. This could do a lot to address transparency. Farmers need to be careful about what they wish for in terms of a regulator. There could be further regulation at the primary food production end and that might not be what people need. Therefore, there needs to be transparency in retailing. I have a particular problem with below-cost selling and loss-leading, which is a significant factor in Irish multiples’ sales. I said in the House some weeks ago that a pound of frozen pizza sometimes sells in supermarkets for more than the price of choice cuts of Irish beef. That is a significant regret for everybody in the House.

We have to find a way to achieve differentiation in respect of the Irish beef export market. We have to align Government policy with that process. We must have transparency, certainly on pricing. We must have fairness and equity regarding what is being paid to primary producers but we must also see a sustainable pathway indicating how farmers will receive a ready and adequate return for the work they do, which is so important to our national economy. As other Deputies have said, it is a question of how we are going to deliver equity and fairness for farmers in the future. I welcome the debate and hope the Minister will provide further opportunities for debate on this issue.

I welcome the motion. I welcome the fact that the Rural Independent Group is calling for a beef regulator. The beef industry in this country is a national disgrace. We have a system built on the poverty and misery of tens of thousands of beef farmers. We have many markets that are dysfunctional. While I am thinking of housing and insurance, I am definitely thinking of the beef sector. There is an oligopoly whereby a small number of factories make hundreds of millions of euro in profit annually, much of which is taxed abroad, yet there are tens of thousands of farmers who are forced to sell their beef at a price below the cost of production to those factories annually. We have supermarkets with big pictures of farmers standing in their fields beside their counters that pretend they are interested in their corporate responsibility but they are forcing a price through the market, which means the farmers’ earnings are lower than the cost of production. It is an absolute disgrace.

There are several reasons for this. The Government is seriously deficient in economic expertise. A typical leaving certificate economics class would have more economic know-how than the Cabinet. The relationship between some of the governing parties and the factories in this country is too close. Incredibly, the Fine Gael Chairman of the agriculture committee of the last Dáil said it was unreasonable to expect a guaranteed price above the cost of production for farmers. The Fianna Fáil Deputy at the committee, who is now the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, agreed. That shows the instinct within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is not to have a fair price for farmers. Aontú drafted a Bill called the Equitable Beef Pricing Bill, which seeks to put a floor under the price of beef just for one year and that reflects the cost of production which would be identified by Teagasc to force the beef factories to negotiate properly with the farmers on a fair price.

The beef sector is extremely profitable. There are three elements to the supply chain, namely, farmers, factories and supermarkets. However, the profits are located in the two latter elements of that chain and are being taken away from farmers. As a result, farmers leave the land every year. Teagasc reckons that only 37% of farmers are able to make a living off farms independently, 35% are only in farming because they work off the farm to make sure they can earn a living and 30% are making a loss and going into debt because of the economic structure in the beef sector.

I have stood at the gates of beef factories up and down this country with farmers while they were holding their protests. They were told that there would be light at the end of the tunnel and there would be fairness in the production system but they have not received it as of yet. Every week, they put in 60 or 70 hours of work to finish up with a price below the cost of production. This is allowed to happen. I welcome the fact that the Rural Independent Group has brought forward this motion. Every tool necessary needs to be brought to bear to make sure we have proper checks and balances over the beef sector in order that all the elements of the supply chain - farmers, factories and supermarkets - get a fair price for a fair day's work.

I welcome this motion. Anybody who thinks an ombudsman - and I think the Government is looking that way - will solve anything is delusional. Every day, we all write letters to constituents telling them to go to the Ombudsman. What happens? Nothing. We need a regulator with teeth who can seize computers to find out what is happening.

This time last year, beef was priced at 350 or 360 cent per kilogramme. Today, we have a deficit of 100,000 cattle. There is no four-movement rule at the moment. The authorities do not mind if 24 movements take place. There is also no 30-month rule. All they want is cattle because there is a deficit of 100,000 animals this year and they will pay 415 or 420 cent per kilogramme for an animal aged 36 months or over. Last year, farmers had to have them under 30 months and three movements applied. This just shows what is happening. The beef task force should be abandoned. Introducing weighing scales in factories was spoken about but it never happened. I know of an incident where a grading machine was not working in a factory and it was removed. The Department was supposed to look at that day in and day out. How much of a loss is that to farmers around this country?

I support what the Rural Independent Group has done now that our turn has come. Deputy McNamara and I will put together a Bill regarding a regulator. Deputy McNamara has put in most of the work. I believe that if we do not cut to the chase, there will be one loser in all of this. The farmer is the price taker and the factories and retailers are the price makers. Reports are being produced by people who obviously do not understand too much about the beef industry saying, "Well, they're not making that much out of it". People should look at the price of beef today and last year and the price of beef on the world market. Bring an animal to England today and it will be €250 to €300 for the same animal killed in England as is killed here. If that does not show us that there is something seriously wrong in the market here, we might as well give up.

I very much endorse what Deputy Fitzmaurice said. As he indicated, we will prepare a Bill if the Government falls short on this. It is generally accepted that we live in an information age. Information is everything. He who has information has power. All of the information and all of the power reside with the processors because all of the information available to the Minister of State, Deputy Heydon, and his Department is available to the processors. They know how many cattle are in this country at any given time and the age of each and every one of those cattle. If they have a rule that those cattle must be sold at 30 months, they know how much they can offer because they know what the demand is because they control the market. There are only four of them. There are two very big players and two slightly smaller players, but the four of them control the whole market so they know what the demand is and what the supply is because they can just look at the computer, see how many cattle are approaching 30 months and ask themselves what they will pay.

They also know that every time the Government gives money to producers, who, for want of a better word, are being screwed - that is not unparliamentary language - by the practices of those processors, they can take that into account. If the Government gives €100 per head to compensate farmers for the fact that prices were so low because the processors can manipulate the situation to make them low, they can take €100 off the price of cattle and take that for themselves. That is precisely what they have done. They have forward contracts with certain producers - not very many - but they do have some forward contracts. They also have farmers who provide so-called bed and breakfast arrangements knowns as feedlots. These are often farmers who over-extended, found themselves in difficulty and were not in a position to keep going so they will now house cattle owned by the processors. Of course, processors can take those cattle out of the feedlots when demand is high and supply is low from ordinary farmers and use that to manipulate the market so they have all the levers of power and farmers have none.

The only power ordinary farmers have involves live exports and, of course, the Department makes it very difficult for live exports from Ireland in terms of the number of inspections Department vets carry out on boats. Of course, boats have to be of a certain standard but there should be a common European standard. There is a suspicion among farmers regardless of whether it is properly founded or not that it is being made overly difficult for people to export live animals in order to protect the processors. All of the levers of power are with the processors and none of them is with the producers.

Like the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, I grew up on a farm and know what it is like to stay up all night with a cow that is calving. I do not do so at the moment as I engage in dry stock but I know what it is like to pay X amount for cattle in the spring and be hammered in the autumn because I have no idea how many cattle are going to be coming on stream in the autumn but the processors do so they have that power.

I am asking the Government to intervene in order to level the playing field. That is what this is about. Unlike the approach adopted by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, as referred to by Deputy Tóibín, the Spanish Government has introduced a bill to ban selling cattle at below the cost of production. We need to look at that.

It has been obvious for decades that practices in the meat processing sector have created fortunes for factory owners, with continuing low incomes for all beef farmers from weighmen to sellers to finishers. Beef farmers have consistently been unable to earn a living wage and are only sustained by direct payments from CAP. Factory owners have acted in concert to keep prices to farmers down and in the process, have forced farmer-owned factories out of business. This has led to a de facto cabal of private meat factories that, using the best financial and taxation advisers, have evolved into major property and landowners.

The study of the beef sector being undertaken by Grant Thornton is virtually valueless. Aldi, which is one of the stakeholders, has stated that it believes this is due to the non-engagement of other stakeholders, including retailers. The deck is stacked against the primary producers, with no information on the value of the fifth quarter heights and no requirement on stakeholders to supply all of the information.

Farmers face more and more requirements to meet increasingly stringent requirements imposed by bodies such as Bord Bia and others that deliver no proportionate return to farmers but merely add to the earnings of meat factories and multiple retailers. I have not even mentioned the impact of the feedlots.

Beef production is a vital part of the fabric of the rural economy, particularly in my constituency. Unless we get a beef regulator with statutory powers who will look at the full underlying structure of the beef industry in Ireland, that fabric will unravel. In fact, it has already started.

I am an active suckler farmer. My mother took over the enterprise at home after my father passed away until I was old enough to take it on. I know what it is like to derive one's sole income from farming, along with the pressure and work that go with that. I assure Deputy Tóibín and others that the Government is determined that we have a strong and vibrant beef sector for the next generation.

I extend to the House the apologies of the Minister, who is in Brussels and who cannot be here for this important debate. We all agree that the work he is doing in Brussels as part of the CAP trilogues is important for all farmers and primary producers.

The programme for Government contains a commitment regarding the establishment of a new authority, to be called the national food ombudsman, or similar, to enforce the unfair trading practices, UTP, directive. As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, stated, it is envisaged that the body to be established will have powers which go beyond those outlined in the UTP directive. Public consultation on the issue closes today and this will feed into the direction of development of the office.

I draw Deputies' attention to the fact that Ireland is one of the first of the EU member states to transpose the UTP directive into national legislation. This is credit to the hard work of the officials in my Department and to the clear commitment of the Government to pursue as many measures as possible to ensure fairness, equity and transparency in the agricultural and food supply chain. The establishment of this office is what the Government has committed to delivering. It will be delivered in a way that optimises its usefulness to supply chain actors and consumers. However, as the Minister previously stated, the office will not have the authority to determine commodity prices. Neither the Minister nor the Department has or can have a role in determining price for any commodity. We are not in a position to set up any entity which will run contrary to existing competition law. If Members wish to examine this issue further, as part of the beef task force agreement the Department commissioned and published a summary of competition law issues as relevant to the Irish beef sector. This report is publicly available on the website.

There is no denying the importance of transparency in building the trust along the supply chain necessary to develop an economically and environmentally sustainable sector. This is an area that we have also actively pursued since taking office. The report done on competition law for the beef task force formed one of a series of three reports. A further report on market specifications and requirements has also been published and is available on the website. A draft of the third and final report on the price composition along the supply chain has been made available to task force members. Their comments will be considered before the report is finalised and published, hopefully in the near future.

These reports are useful in adding to transparency on the way the sector operates. There have been a number of other transparency initiatives completed under the auspices of the beef task force, including the enhancement of the Department’s beef price watch app and the establishment of the new Bord Bia market tracker. The Bord Bia market tracker presents data on a range of indicators in an accessible format. This includes price comparisons, a comparison of Irish composite prices for all product, as well as for prime cattle, with an export benchmark price, which reflects the relative importance of key markets for Irish beef. It also includes an index of wholesale and retail prices, along with a by-product market indicator.

Both of these initiatives, which were part of the beef sector agreement, have also contributed to increased price transparency in the market. I should note that my Department already collects and publishes a range of date on the beef sector. My Department is responsible for collating and reporting meat prices, as well as other data, every week to the EU in the context of the EU market observatories. The Department then uses this and other data to compile and publish a weekly meat market report with price, production and trade data.

It is envisaged that the new office of the national food ombudsman will have a specific role in analysing and reporting on price and market data in Ireland. We have worked on improving the transparency of this data in recent years. As I have already noted, neither the Government nor its agencies can have a role in the determination of commodity prices. However, it is possible to strengthen the position of sellers in the marketplace by supporting collective action through producer organisations, by improving transparency and by prohibiting unfair trading practices. My Department is taking action in all these areas.

Producer organisations are an important part of the toolkit in building resilience in the sector by strengthening the position of the primary producer in the supply chain. Funding providing support for the establishment of beef producer organisations is available under the outgoing rural development programme and will continue to be available in the transitional period. My officials have engaged extensively with potential groups since the inception of the measure in 2016. One of the commitments from the beef talks in August 2019 was that my Department would engage to the fullest extent possible to assist with the establishment of beef producer organisations. This commitment was clearly demonstrated through the engagement with the organisations which have been established, which have publicly acknowledged the high level of support that they have received from Department officials in this regard.

The establishment of the producer organisations is an important and timely signal to farmers that they can collectively do business in a way that enables them to have increased bargaining power, as well as helping them to increase their economic and environmental efficiency through collaboration with the potential for enhanced knowledge sharing and economies of scale. My Department is exploring how best to facilitate the further development of producer organisations under the new CAP. We made a firm commitment in the programme for Government to support the establishment of more producer organisations in the beef sector which we are actively pursuing. This will strengthen the position of farmers and primary producers in the supply chain.

Another commitment in the programme for Government aimed at supporting the competitiveness of the sector was the development of an application for protected geographical indication, PGI, status for Irish grass-fed beef. The development of this application was also an action under the beef sector agreement of 2019. After an extensive consultation process with stakeholders, a PGI application for Irish grass-fed beef by Bord Bia, on behalf of producers, was submitted to the European Commission last November. The European Commission has recently responded to this application with detailed technical queries which are now being examined. If approved, PGI status has the capacity to broaden the range of markets and market segments in which Irish grass-fed beef can compete and to add to its existing reputation as a quality product.

Encouragingly, despite an extremely challenging year, agrifood exports totalled €14.3 billion in 2020. Beef exports fell marginally by volume and value in 2020 by 4%. However, we must remember the challenging circumstances of 2020. The Government categorised farming and food production as essential services under the Covid-19 regulations. Since the start of the pandemic, my Department has been focused on ensuring that business and services to farmers can continue, keeping food and other processing facilities operational, as well as ensuring payments and commercial activities necessary to protect farm incomes can continue.

We have worked closely with all sectors in this regard, none more so than the meat industry, in ensuring that plants remained operational, which is important for primary producers in having an outlet for their stock. However, ensuring that the health of workers was protected was the Government’s priority at all times. The relevant and detailed public health advice has been implemented. My Department’s statutory responsibility in the context of meat plants is to ensure that Department-approved meat plants operate in compliance with the EU’s food hygiene legislation, animal health and animal welfare standards. However, in the current circumstances, in addition to this statutory role, my Department is continuing to provide any support required to the HSE and the Health and Safety Authority at local and national level.

Many challenges facing the sector remain but so does the opportunity to collectively rise to them to develop a sector that is economically, environmentally and socially sustainable, while recognising that we need to do this in a way that delivers for all stakeholders, in particular for farmers as primary producers. Continuous, strong and meaningful engagement from stakeholders in the beef task force, as well as in processes such as the development of the office of the national food ombudsman and the development of the new CAP strategic plan, will be central to achieving that aim.

Deputy Sherlock raised a concern about the UK-Australia trade talks. As Minister of State with responsibility for new market development and maintaining existing markets, I take a keen interest in such trade negotiations. We continue to monitor the details of such negotiations. While the outcome is out of our hands, it is worth bearing in mind that Bord Bia research shows that British consumers have a very high regard for Irish beef, regarding it with the same level of trust as they have for their own British beef. Bord Bia continues intensive marketing in the UK. If PGI status is approved, it could significantly help with our premium markets which is absolutely key. It is about increasing value for our primary producer by accessing higher value markets. Recently, we had success in this regard in Japan. It normally was just for beef tongue and offal. Getting access for Irish beef mince and burgers to the Japanese market has been a significant development which could make a big difference for farmers and primary producers.

I thank Deputy Carol Nolan and the Rural Independent Group for raising this important issue and giving us an opportunity to put on the record the work that we are doing in this area to safeguard the future of the beef sector in Ireland.

I am the son of a farmer. My father was born in 1911 in Banogue, Croom, County Limerick. My mother was born in the 1930s in Cloverfield, Dromkeen. My father's family were Fianna Fáil, my mother's family were Fine Gael and they bred an Independent. We have an independent voice here today. They would be so disappointed in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael because of how much waffle the two parties have given us for a hundred years. We are sick of it. It is the same spin and waffle all the time. They have let the farming community and the parties down. There are so many Independents in this House because the Government has let the farming sector down.

Since I was elected to this Dáil, the Rural Independent Group has raised the beef industry and the four groups that are controlling the market. I have asked the Department to investigate the feeder farms that are supplying these factories monthly or quarterly, not annually. They are owned by the factories and they are paying a lower price than beef farmers pay. We ask the Government not to sell out its heritage or the farming and beef sectors. It is selling us out and it should listen to the Independent Deputies. We are farmers.

I thank David Mullins, Brian Ó Domhnaill and Deputy Nolan for their hard work on this motion. I am perplexed by the Government. I did not hear anyone move an amendment. The Government seems to have adopted a habit recently of allowing these motions to pass to let its backbenchers off the hook. Government Deputies can stand at the factory gates with the farmers and say they are with them, which makes a mockery of them, as Deputy O'Donoghue said. Farmers are smart, well-educated people who understand a three card trick when they see one. That is what is happening today.

The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, includes a commitment to "Ensure fairness, equity, and transparency in the food chain by establishing a new authority". This will be another quango to be set up with a brass plate on the wall, big seats and fancy furniture. It will be another cabal. That is what we will have. We want a regulator with teeth and we will probably have to go outside the country to get one if we get the legislation passed. We will introduce a Private Members' Bill to put this into action. The regulator has to have teeth and powers, unlike all the other regulators we have. As Deputy O'Donoghue and others said, what is going on in this country is like rubbing butter on a fat sow's you-know-what.

I thank Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, the Social Democrats, the Labour Party and the others who supported our motion. They know what is going on. The beef tribunal told us what was going on 30 years ago. It was as clear as the nose on our face. The cheek of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil; they are in bed with the beef moguls. At least Deputy Heydon, and the Minister of State from Athlone, Deputy Peter Burke, were born and reared on farms and understand farming, although they can see the sector being diminished before their eyes.

I will not give a history lesson about where I come from. Everyone knows that I come from the mountains in Tipperary where we tried to eke out a living from sheep farming. A farmer left that hill in Kilnacarriga with six ewes. Thankfully he had a fine family and we are here. The lifeblood has been drained out of the people of rural Ireland. There are 10,000 jobs for 70,000 beef farmers. They know a cartel when they see one. Some of the farming organisations are good. Independent farmers came to the gates last year to bring Dublin to a halt. It was not that they wanted to do so but that they were desperate. They cannot keep trading at a loss. I salute the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and the whole meitheal that used to be on the farm. Now they cannot afford to keep anyone on the farm.

The Green Party, through the programme for Government, will not let people build a house unless they are a designated son or daughter and have a landholding of 40 ha. All the rest of the family can go to hell or Connacht. Cromwell is back in the form of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, with his policies, the 2040 plan and the planning regulator. It is a dictatorship. Where has democracy gone? Where is the freedom that Dan Breen, Michael Collins and all the others fought and died for throughout this country? We sold it out to big business, which is controlling us. We cannot interfere in the market but the Government can vote through and implement the universal social charge or any tax it likes. It implemented a carbon tax in the last Finance Act and we cannot even vote on it again for the next ten years. It says we cannot interfere but we are not asking it to interfere. We are asking it to stand up and face down four big beef cartels.

I ask the Minister of State to sit the Tánaiste down and explain to him what a beef mogul or beef baron is. He does not know what they are. For him, they are a figment of the imagination. He was our Taoiseach and wants to be Taoiseach again but he does not know what a beef baron is. Get the wellies on him and march him down to see the factory farmers. Some are now owned by former IFA presidents. They are screwing the very people who worked for the IFA and other organisations for years, and are still members. This is what happens when they control the feedlots and we have the four-movement and 30-month rules. We were told earlier by Deputy Fitzmaurice that these rules are an issue because the factories need the beef. The rules were put in place by Ministers over the years at the behest of those funding the big parties and some Independents. We know that. It is quite obvious. You get what you pay for and that is what the Government got. It is destroying the farmers.

We want rural Ireland to be sustainable. All the money a farm gets is spent locally on contractors and local merchants, self-employed people and the people they employ, whether that is farm relief or ordinary labourers. There were 10,000 jobs. We saw during the Covid crisis the way workers are blackguarded. Look at the conditions that workers in those factories are living in. There are ten of them to a bed and maybe 30 to a house. What kind of history and dirty linen are we going to have exposed in 30 years by countries that send their people here expecting them to be looked after? Irish people went all over the world to work. We worked hard and we were not treated too badly. We were certainly not treated like that. We were treated with respect and dignity. There is no dignity or respect in this industry for the farmers, producers or workers, and the Government knows that. It will happily continue to let things proceed so badly or it will set up an ombudsman. We have ombudsmen for everything. They are toothless, useless and fruitless. They have staff, a team and an office, with a plaque on the front wall. People can come in to make their complaints but they might as well write to Santa Claus because they would get better answers. It is all a ploy.

We are not only talking about the beef industry today. I see the Taoiseach has arrived. I welcome him back from Brussels. He is well aware of his party's connections with the beef industry for the last 30 years. He has been at the centre of Governments since the 1990s and he kept the previous Government propped up with the so-called confidence and supply arrangement. The Government tells us that this is not going on and it is a figment of our imagination. The Rural Independent Group will not stop until such time as we have some kind of fairness.

The Irish Farm Film Producers Group, IFFPG, which was set up to deal with plastics, has become a monopoly. It was founded by some senior members of the IFA. It has wiped out the small producers such as Declan Doocey in Lismore and others. Representatives of the IFFPG appeared before the committee last Tuesday and told bare-faced porkies. They told the committee that the plant in the midlands was recycling 50% of the plastic collected.

It is unwise to accuse-----

I know it is. The IFFPG knew before that committee meeting that large amounts of contaminated plastic were being returned from Turkey. It telephoned the businessman in question one hour before the committee meeting to discontinue his contract. It has learned from the beef industry and is setting up cabals to exert control, regardless of farmers.

We are proud people of the land and so were generations before us. We had the Famine and recovered from it. We had the War of Independence, the occupation of our country and the Black and Tans. Now we have these people silently destroying our families and squeezing the life out of the farmers. Farmers are going off the land and being hunted. The land is being taken over by forestry. People can plant forestry but they cannot get a licence to cut it. It is more control by the Green Party and regulators. The way farmers are being treated is bizarre. They deserve better. They deserve to be recognised and respected with a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and a fair price for their animals, not the control that we currently have.

As for the task force, we might as well have children making and stirring Bovril because they can drink it. They are stirring it around. There are former Secretaries General in charge and they will keep the rules they put in place. They will not make any changes and the farmer will not be any better off.

We will all be lamenting. Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár. Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan feirmeoirí na hÉireann? Beidh siad go léir imithe, as láthair, gone. It is so sad with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael celebrating their past heroes from 100 years ago. They are turning in their graves at what those parties have done to the country and they should be ashamed of themselves. I wanted to push this to a vote but the Government has a new plan of not tabling a counter-motion. I want to push it to a vote anyway.

I thank the Deputy. I am actually very worried about those Members you say are going to bed with beef burgers. Members should be aware that would be extremely bad for their health.

Question put and agreed to.