04 November 1998
Livestock producers unite to defend auction markets
By Vicky Houchin
LIVESTOCK association leaders have forged a new alliance to defend live auction markets against supermarket buying power.
The Livestock Marketing Alliance was launched at a farmers meeting in Newark yesterday (Tuesday) to persuade more producers to market their stock through live auctions rather than selling to supermarkets direct.
“It is war,” said John Thorley, secretary of the National Sheep Association. “Most multiples would like to source entirely deadweight.”
In a scathing attack on direct selling, Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, warned producers that they faced becoming sitting ducks to the whims of supermarkets who by-passed the live auction system.
“Supermarkets run completely on price and narrow-mindedness,” Mr Forster told the Newark meeting. “They can be merciless in reducing overhead prices and their logistics are brilliant.”
Once supermarkets had put livestock auctions out of business, competition in the marketplace would be reduced and prices would fall, Mr Forster warned.
“Supermarkets will continue until the auction system is smashed, and then pay whatever they want,” he said.
Shaun Irvine, an auctioneer from Ulster, said British farmers faced a future similar to the situation in Northern Ireland, where more than 80% of livestock is now sold deadweight.
“With only five processors and even fewer supermarkets, the competition has been lost,” he said. “We have one of the lowest prices in Europe.”
Many Irish producers had questioned the prices paid by supermarkets, but to no avail, added Mr Irvine. Price-fixing fears in Ulster were common, he said.
“Multiples should be made to compete for stock, and the livestock auctions are the best place for this,” he said.
“Please keep competition in the marketplace before you get into a situation in Great Britain like we have in Northern Ireland.”