12 January 2000
Farmers blockade Irish cattle plants

By Philip Clarke

CATTLE slaughterings in Ireland are at a standstill after angry farmers stepped up a blockade of meat factories, sparked by higher inspection charges.

Inspection charges increased from Ir3.70 a head to Ir5.50 (GB4.36) at the start of the week, as government sought to recoup the costs of the service from the industry.

Slaughterers have passed the full cost straight back to farmers in the form of lower prices, prompting the Irish Farmers Association to mount the pickets.

“There has been a resounding response from cattle finishers, indicating the depth of frustration over cattle prices,” said Irish Farmers Association president Tom Parlon.

An injunction obtained by slaughterer Kepak against demonstrators at its Dublin plant appears to have persuaded farmers to increase their action.

Meat traders appear to have some sympathy for the farmers, criticising the government for failing to make inspection more efficient

One report, written by consultants Ernst and Young as long ago as 1995, called on the government to improve efficiency in the meat inspection service.

John Smith of the Irish Meat Association said that the farmers decision to blockade the meat factories was misguided.

But he said it was wrong for the Irish government to seek to recover 12.5 million a year from the beef industry by charging an average of 7 per animal processed.

“That is double the charge applied in most other EU member states, reflecting the gross inefficiency in the inspection service,” he said.

Government sources said slaughterers should not recoup charges from farmers on a flat-rate basis, because the inspection costs vary between factories.