UPDATE: Meat processing factories are restricting beef kill to artificially back up supplies and pull prices, according to the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) this afternoon. A claim hotly denied by Meat Industry Ireland.

With the beef price in our main export market in the UK at €5.00/kg, the actions of the meat plants in pulling cattle prices is totally unjustified, said IFA National Livestock Chairman Henry Burns.

There is a massive shortage of beef in the UK and demand remains very strong, he said.

“The latest Bord Bia report states UK trade remains unchanged as favourable weather conditions continue to help the trade and demand for steak cuts remains firm. On the Continent, Bord Bia reports the beef trade remained firm across most markets and continues to be helped by on-going tight supplies across the different key export markets. Strong demand is evident for hindquarter product, with best trade for fillets and striploins.”

In the Food Harvest 2020 plan, factories claimed they wanted to increase beef production and they claimed they could easily sell 40,000 cattle per week.

He said this week procurement managers and agents are telling farmers they are full up of cattle, although the kill is only 28,000 head.

“The reality is the factories are limiting the kill and backing up numbers in order to pull back prices,” he said.

“It is very clear from the lack of competition in the trade in the past two weeks, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney needs to take immediate action on cattle prices and get more boats cleared for more live exports.

“Good progress has been made in reopening the Libyan market and we now need more boats and more exports. Another boat sailed last week to Libya with 1,500 bulls and up to 5,000 sheep.”

Responding to the IFA comments, Cormac Healy, director of Meat Industry Ireland said: “Irish cattle prices remain at record levels and are currently 114 per cent of the EU cattle price.  This is a huge achievement for the Irish beef Industry but also a challenge in terms of maintaining sales to the full spread of European markets, where domestic cattle prices are below Irish levels.  The UK market accounts for only 50 per cent of Irish beef sales.  Our competitiveness there, and in other markets, is a challenge at present.”

“The national cattle kill for the first half of 2013 is up 10 per cent or 60,000 head on last year and current weekly kills are running at 3,000-4,000 head above the same weeks last year.”

“Maintaining the strong performance on cattle prices that has been seen over the last number of years and throughout the Spring of 2013 will be best served by producers focussing on delivery of quality assured in-spec cattle.”

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This article was updated at 13.40 with a statement from Meat Industry Ireland.