Angered producers have accused a major beef processor and two retailers of "underhand tactics" amid revelations the firm has imported hundreds of tonnes of meat from Poland to meet panic-buy hikes in sales.
Despite beef seemingly flying off shelves at higher prices, producers were baffled when farm-gate prices remained low.
According to the latest Livestock Meat Commission (LMC) market briefing, prime cattle base quotes have fallen by approximately 4p/kg and cow prices fell up to 20p/kg this week. The same report showed hogget prices also dropped by 40p/kg.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) presidential team said farmers were "rightly angry" over reports that ABP in Great Britain has supplied 400t of Polish beef to Sainsbury and Asda.
"It comes at a time when our processors are telling us that market conditions are extremely difficult and producers are likely to see reduced prices," a spokesman said.
It comes just weeks after parts of the Polish industry were under investigation by the European Commission for poor hygiene practices.
The union said it threatened the sustainability of the food supply chain locally. Although the meat will not land on Northern Ireland shelves, Britain is still a crucial market for the region.
In an online spat with UFU beef and lamb committee chairman Sam Chesney, Asda NI corporate affairs manager Joe McDonald admitted the budget supermarket chain had imported meat.
"We sourced Polish product as part of a range of one-off emergency solutions to get product on our shelves when we were being completely overwhelmed by panic buying," McDonald said.
"[It was a] very short-term measure to 'feed the nation' - [it's] selling though slowly."
A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said the firm remained committed to sourcing British "as much as we possibly can".
"We have experienced exceptionally high demand for certain cuts of meat in the last few weeks so we have temporarily introduced additional lines for our customers to choose from.
"We will go back to offering our usual range as soon as possible, while balancing our commitment to meeting demand and helping to feed the nation," she said.
A statement issued today (April 3) from the union's office bearers branded the move a "selfish decision".
There is no reason for doing this other than to make a quick profit. Farmers across the UK and Ireland are working hard to keep supplies flowing under the most difficult of circumstances.
"They are succeeding and there is plenty of beef available to processors and retailers. What they are doing is simply kicking farmers at these most difficult of times as part of a tactic to drive down prices.
"That is unfair and underhand. Those doing it deserve to be named and shamed. It equates to approximately twenty containers of beef, it has seriously undermined the commitment given by the processors to a collective approach across the supply chain,” said the UFU office bearers," it read.
The UFU said farmers had been fulfilling their role in the fight against Covid-19 by ensuring processors had sufficient supplies of beef.
“We genuinely believe people appreciate the efforts of farmers," a spokesman for the union added.
When this is over food security, quality and provenance will be a lot higher on people's agenda. There will, however, always be those who seek to exploit a situation for a quick profit.
"This is to be expected of wheeler-dealers, but not of one of the biggest beef companies in Europe and of two retailers proud of their images. I would urge all involved in this trade to think again and put wider interests first – if only for the sake of their own reputations with farmers and the general public,” said the UFU presidential team.
“The whole issue leaves a very bad and bitter taste in our mouths. In a recent meeting with processors, we specifically asked was non-UK beef being imported and it was categorically denied. Only for it to become apparent that this was already happening on the same day as it was being denied. What trust and respect we had for the processors and retailers has seriously eroded.
"Processors have recently raised the price of mince from £3/kg to as high as £5/kg in some cases. We have been consistently told in the past by our processors that 60% of an animal goes into manufacturing/mince.
"In simple maths, that is quite a lot of money per animal. However, the processors desire to pull down the price of beef to the producer whilst polish beef is being imported for supermarket shelves, we are left totally dismayed.
"We ask the consumer to support our local small shops and butchers. We can’t have processors and retailers undermining us at a time when we as farmers need to feed our nation,” said the UFU.
ABP, Asda and Sainsbury's have been contacted for response.