IRISH BEEF producers faced another blow to their weakened market this week (w/e Oct 1) with news that P&O Ferries is to drop its service from Rosslare to Cherbourg.

That is a key route for shipping live cattle to the Continent.

The decision formed part of a wider shake-up by P&O of its UK and Irish operations which sees the closure of four of its 13 routes to mainland Europe and the loss of around 1200 jobs in an attempt to save £100m costs.

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers‘ Association president Pat O‘Rourke said that the loss of the route would isolate Ireland from a key market and put more pressure on prices.

It was up to the government to secure a new operator, if necessary through legislation.

“The importance of the live trade cannot be over-estimated. It guarantees the competition so necessary for the cattle and meat sector in Ireland,” he said.

The hit to the live export trade came in the same week as Irish beef producers mounted a major protest outside each of the country‘s 27 meat factories and suspended all cattle deliveries on Monday (Sept 27).

“The severe cattle price cuts by the factories in recent weeks, amounting to 34c/kg (12p/lb) or €115/head (£78), has wiped out any possibility of a profit this autumn,” said Irish Farmers‘ Association president John Dillon.

But Meat Industry Ireland executive Cormac Healy said these prices reflected market realities, which had not changed – despite the farmers‘ action.

“Today‘s difficulties arise from a sharp rise in finished cattle supplies, coinciding with a period of unexpectedly poor demand,” he said, pointing to the increased offering of South American beef in the EU and Russia, and the absence of traditional third country outlets.