Thursday, 19 January 2023
Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
I was not expecting to mention this, but as Deputy Durkan brought up sugar beet I want to agree with his comments. The closure of the sugar factory in Carlow was a huge and devastating loss not just to the Carlow but to the wider constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny and the south-east. We have not recovered from that loss. I want to support his comments on that. Various groups are trying to revamp the industry and it is to be hoped we can count on Government support for that.
The constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny has a mix of an urban and a large rural section. I am delighted to get the chance to speak on this Bill. As colleagues have said, the establishment of a food regulator has been a long-standing demand by Sinn Féin and will be widely welcomed throughout the farming community of Carlow and Kilkenny. I am often contacted by various beef and sheep farmers who feel the large processors and, by extension, retailers, that they sell to, through factories or local marts, are reaping huge profits at their expense. Pricing per head has fallen and those I have spoken to are angry. They are losing money on their livestock sales while supermarket prices have never been higher. A regulatory authority with the power to take action against the long-standing stranglehold of dominant processors, in particular meat factories and multinational retailers, is crucial in delivering a fair price to Irish farmers. Carlow and Kilkenny have some of the finest food producers anywhere in the country. Many would say we are very blessed with top quality land and the best of top quality produce is grown throughout the counties. However, for too long smaller farmers, who do not have the same resources to take on factories or marts to get better prices, have been at the mercy of larger meat factories. Our animals are predominantly on smaller family-owned farms and are free roaming with first-class traceability practices which all ensures we are producing exceptional and sustainable foods that many other countries cannot compete with.
My colleague, Deputy Carthy, has spoken on many occasions about the significant delays in getting the Bill to this stage. However, I welcome that we are at this stage and it is positive. It is important that it is seen as a first step as a lot of amendments are needed.
Recently, I was shocked to hear what farmers actually get for their produce. A sheep farmer gets, on average, €70 per animal. The same animal has the potential to earn a retailer well over €400. People who are not involved in agriculture on a day-to-day basis will be shocked because we all know the price of meat in supermarkets or butchers and obviously farmers are not getting their fair share of that in any way, shape or form. A lot of the factories are a law unto themselves. They control everything and dictate prices. I have heard anecdotally that farmers do not get paid for the whole animal and could get another €10 per head for an animal.
Another issue is the increase in cost in tags, which are now €1 each. That all adds to costs for farmers, but they not do not seem to be getting their fair share.