My Department monitors the price paid for cattle in Ireland on a weekly basis and reports these to the European Commission in accordance with Regulation 1249/2008. The Deputy will appreciate that ultimately questions of price and market specification are matters to be determined between the purchasers and the sellers of cattle and it is neither appropriate nor possible for me to intervene directly on these issues.
My Department does not monitor prices at retail level but we are aware that there are differences paid at market and retail level both here and in other countries including the UK. However, it is not appropriate or possible for me to intervene directly in these matters.
With regard to prices, it should be noted that Irish beef prices were 106% of the EU average in 2013. The average price change over the first 10 weeks of this year is an approximate 1.8% reduction but it must be remembered that it is common for prices to decrease slightly in the first quarter of any year. It should also be noted that with the exception of 2013 the prices paid in the first 10 weeks of 2014 for Irish cattle are comparable to 2012 and significantly in excess of prices paid from 2008-2011.
With regard to the price differential between Irish and UK cattle, a number of factors have been identified to explain why Irish-born cattle command lower prices than their British equivalents. These include a British consumer preference for indigenous product as well as additional transport and processing costs in supplying that market. Ireland's trade with Britain accounts for 53% of our beef export volumes, worth €1.1 billion and, at around 250,000 tonnes in 2013, is equivalent to 750,000 cattle with a high level of penetration in the multiple retail sector.
The potential to grow the live trade to Britain is also constrained by the buying specification operated by the retail chains in relation to cattle born in this country and exported live for finishing and processing in the UK. The retailers' longstanding policy is to market British and Irish beef separately. This means that beef must be sourced from animals originating in one country; i.e. born, reared and slaughtered in the same country. In addition, logistical difficulties arise when a small number of Irish-born animals are slaughtered in a UK meat plant. Under mandatory EU labelling rules, these carcases have to be deboned in a separate batch, packaged and labelled accordingly, thereby incurring additional costs for the processor.
While Bord Bia has repeatedly raised this issue with British retailers over the years, there are no indications that their marketing policy is likely to be reversed soon. Nevertheless, Bord Bia in its ongoing interactions with British customers will continue to pursue all opportunities, to maximise the full potential of the beef and livestock trade with our largest trading partner.
In relation to the current difficulties between farmers and processors I recently met with both farmer representatives and processers to discuss the current situation. Following that interaction, I am hopeful that the factories, in collaboration with the farming bodies, will be able to resolve the various issues that have lately caused difficulties for some producers. At my request, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) member companies have kept their livestock offices open to deal with farmers with any particular queries or concerns on the marketing of their stock. MII member companies have made available contact details for each of their main plants to enable farmers to phone them directly.