Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Ceisteanna (45)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

45. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when the beef task force will meet; the reasons it has not met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49123/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

It is frustrating for beef farmers that the task force is not yet up and running. It was to have a leadership role, get the stakeholders around the table and progress the poor circumstances beef farmers face. We need to overcome the issue of the ongoing injunctions and get the task force up and running. Will the Minister outline the efforts he has made to bring that about and to get the task force up and running?

As the Deputy will be aware, the inaugural beef task force meeting, scheduled for 14 October, was prevented from proceeding. Since then, however, the independent chairman and my Department continue to engage proactively with task force members with a view to progressing the implementation of the provisions of the agreement. My Department and its agencies continue to progress the commitments to which they signed up under the agreement. The full text of the agreement between beef sector stakeholders, along with an update on the progress made to date on the action points, is available on my Department's website.

An immediate increase in a range of bonuses was announced as part of the 15 September agreement, and it has been confirmed to my Department that the bonus system is now in place. Initiatives in the agreement aimed at improving information along the supply chain included the commissioning of the following reports: an independent review of market and customer requirements, an independent examination of the price composition of the total value of the animal along the supply chain, and a summary of competition law issues relevant to the beef sector. My Department has issued a request for tender for these reports, with a deadline for receipt of tender responses of 12 noon on Thursday, 5 December, which will enable the award of the tender before the end of 2019.

In respect of market transparency initiatives, my Department has published an expert report on mechanical carcass classification review, introduced an appeals system for manual grading and initiated a consultation process on the transposition of the unfair trading practices directive, with a deadline for submission of 13 December. Bord Bia has developed a beef market price index model based on three components, namely, a cattle price index, a beef market price index, including retail and wholesale, and an offal price indicator. This is now available on the Bord Bia website.

Teagasc is significantly advanced in the first stage of the scientific review of the quality payment system grid. My Department also proactively engages with several potential beef producer organisations that have the potential to strengthen the bargaining power of beef farmers in the supply chain. Two beef producer organisations have been formally recognised by my Department in recent months.

I established the beef market task force to provide leadership to develop an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable pathway for the future of the beef sector. As I have previously stated, it is in the interests of everyone involved in the beef sector that the work of the task force goes ahead. I hope that all parties will agree to come together as soon as possible to progress this important work.

I thank the Minister for outlining the efforts ongoing offline in the absence of the task force. As he noted, the intention of the task force was to show leadership, bring people around the table and make progress on stumbling blocks, but that has not come about, although we accept there are ongoing injunctions. What efforts is the Minister making in his leadership role to step outside the comfort zone, build bridges and bring about the task force by bringing together the various parties, getting them into the room and getting them talking? While they are not around the table, even though some efforts are being made, there are serious ongoing issues with the price of beef. There have been advances in Europe but farmers here do not believe they have the same opportunities, and demonstrations are ongoing.

I support my colleague. I stood in front of the Minister yesterday during the demonstrations. Hundreds of farmers are demonstrating outside the gates of Leinster House, although I accept he met their representatives briefly at 7.30 a.m. They are there because they are deeply frustrated. It has been months since they stood down their protest, and they did so because they believed the Minister when he stated he would set up a task force, but there has been no change.

The Deputy will agree we convened the task force for 14 October-----

That was months ago.

It was convened for 14 October but on that date, for reasons both Deputies know, the task force meeting could not go ahead. I do not intend to elaborate on why it did not happen on that date because that is well known. There are other complicating issues, which were mentioned earlier, and the injunctions are a significant impediment to convening a meeting. I have been involved in discussions, as have the independent chairman and officials at my Department, and much bilateral engagement has facilitated a great deal of the background work that will be necessary to progress elements of the agreement. I would like there to be a plenary convening of the task force at the earliest possible date. My Department, the independent chairman and I, as well as many of the constituent members, are committed in principle but we need to address the complicating issues that currently thwart us. Nevertheless, I am hopeful we can find an agreement as soon as possible.

Questions Nos. 46 to 49, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.