By Philip Clarke, Europe editor

IRISH cattle prices continued to slide last week, prompting further angry outbursts from farmers who accused the meat factories of profiteering.

Worst hit has been the steer price, with R3 values hitting 80p-82p/lb dw (137p-141p/kg Sterling equivalent). That is a drop of almost 10p/lb (17p/kg) in just three weeks, a loss of around Ir80/head (62).

John Dillon, deputy president of the Irish Farmers Association, accused the meat factories of attempting to “drive Irish cattle prices down to intervention levels, allowing them to make a huge margin on beef sales into Britain and an easy return on beef going into intervention”.

Current steer values in the UK are about 20p/lb (34p/kg) higher. “Farmers will not be fooled by the factories spin that there are no markets, when beef sales to Britain are at an all-time high.”

But Mr Dillons comments are refuted by the Irish Meat Association.

“In the absence of the purchase for destruction scheme (which removed surplus steers in the first half of the year) there just arent the outlets for the volume of cattle coming through,” said chief executive John Smith.

The loss of Third Country markets, such as Egypt, which took over one-quarter of all Irish exports, was also hitting prices.

Mr Smith added that intervention was not an option because firm UK values meant that the EU average price was being held above the (84%) threshold for buying up steers.

Bord Bia economist Poraig Brennan agreed that there was a supply-demand imbalance. The weekly kill was running at about 35,000 head compared with a more normal 27,000 for August.

Farmers were selling more steers to clear them before they reached 30 months old, at which point they would have to be tested for BSE and would suffer a 4p/lb (7.5p/kg) discount in value.

But Joe Kilmartin, beef chairman for the Irish Cattle Traders and Stockowners Association, says farmers should not be panicked into “throwing cattle at the factories”.

“Last week almost half the steer kill was made up of steers already over 30 months. These extra supplies are helping factories drop prices.

“Grass is plentiful and my advice to farmers is to hold on to unfit older cattle, plus younger cattle not yet approaching 30 months.”