14 January 2000

Pickets halt Irish slaughter

CATTLE slaughterings came to a standstill in Ireland on Wednesday (Jan 12), as the Irish Farmers Association picketed the countrys abattoirs in response to a sharp increase in inspection fees and low prices.

IFA livestock chairman, Raymond OMalley said the higher charges had been foisted on the industry without prior notification and without any attempt to rationalise the inspection service.

"The whole set-up is vet ridden and inefficient," he said. "Four years ago, management consultants Ernst and Young compiled a report which made a number of recommendations as to how costs could be reduced."

Instead, government was trying to recover all the costs of meat inspection from the meat trade, and these were being passed back to farmers. The charges, which went up this week from Ir£3.70 to Ir£5.50 for each animal slaughtered, were "unjust and abusive", said Mr OMalley.

An injunction obtained by Kepak to protect its main abattoir at Clonee on the outskirts of Dublin from the pickets had inflamed the situation, he added.

Meat trade representatives said they also opposed the increased charges, but described the farmers blockades as "misdirected". They should be targeting the government.

"The department of agriculture is seeking to recover Ir£12.5m from the beef industry, an average charge of Ir£7 per animal processed," said Irish Meat Association chief executive, John Smith. "This is double the charge in most other EU member states,"

reflecting the gross inefficiencies."

Had the government acted on the Ernst and Young recommendations – for example, employing meat technicians rather than vets – total costs would have come down to Ir£7m, the IMA claimed.

But the department of agriculture said the onus was on meat plants to manage their operations in a way that reduced the overall cost of the service. "There is no justification for the factories to impose a flat rate charge of Ir£5.50 across the board, because the level of costs will vary significantly from plant to plant," said a spokesman.