Thursday, 17 October 2019
Mandatory Beef Price Transparency Bill 2019: First Stage
That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the establishment of a source of data on the prices being received for beef products throughout the supply chain and to provide for related matters.
I welcome the opportunity to introduce this Bill.
We have had a difficult situation with the beef sector and we are all well aware of the crisis that exists there, but there has been an agreement with seven farming organisations and processors. There is still work to be done there and there are issues with the legal injunctions served against some farmers and representatives of their organisations that all need to be lifted. Much more needs to done. One particular issue that remains outstanding in the sector is the complete lack of trust between farmers and processors. I met farmers in Rathdowney a number of times, I met farmers who had been at the gates of other factories and I met people who had been protesting over those weeks. The one issue that kept coming up was the lack of trust between them and the factories and factory-owners. Beef farmers have little information on which to determine whether or not they are being given a fair price for a carcass. The way things are set plays right into the hands of the processors, many of whom are taking advantage of the situation where there is little transparency around pricing. We are therefore calling for the right to beef price transparency to be enshrined throughout the supply chain. The Bill I am introducing will go some way towards providing that much needed transparency.
This Sinn Féin Bill would put a mandatory obligation on all processors to provide price transparency through a central system on a daily basis. This would mean there would be a record farmers could easily tap into in order to see exactly what price is being paid by factories and processors that would be categorised by grade. For example, the beef market observatory would compile daily information on the price of cattle per kilogram, the live weight, the dress weight, the quality grade and the breed etc. and any premiums or discounts associated with the transaction. Without this basic information, farmers are put at a serious disadvantage each time they engage with the factories. This leaves the door open for processors, that are making huge profits while farmers are making a loss, to exploit the situation further. The type of legislation we are introducing works because we know it works in the United States, where the beef sector is regulated through legislation. We have examples of where this works elsewhere. We do not want to hear this cannot be done or it is risky. All this legislation does is open everything up to broad daylight so farmers and people working in the sector can see what is happening.
Having said that, we understand the beef price index and the observatory are not a silver bullet. We are not naïve enough to think that but we believe it would go some way towards ending any suggestion of manipulation of prices by processors. That is important. We see the huge margins and profits some of the factories are turning out and on the other hand we see farmers producing and selling at a loss. There are some issues, such as base price, that we in this House cannot get directly involved in, but there are other issues, such as transparency, where we can improve the situation.
This is a sector that has been unstable for years with huge uncertainty for farmers in terms of price. They do not know if they will be able to get a price to cover their costs. There is also huge uncertainty for workers in factories. A lot of them are being exploited by factory owners. Workers who were skilled boners were cleared out of a lot of factories. I have seen people who were on €14 an hour and €15 an hour being let go and other people were brought in on the minimum wage to take their places. The situation is unstable. It has been unstable for workers because they have been let off recently due to the blockades. That is no fault of the farmers or the workers. It is the fault of the factory owners and the processors.
We need to bring stability, certainty and transparency to this sector. We can start doing this by underpinning the rules and the agreement that has recently been made with legislation. Any step forward is welcome. We acknowledge there has been progress but we need transparency now. I call on all parties in the House to support this legislation. We are open to amendments. We are not saying this Bill is perfect. We are saying it is the place to start. When I raised this with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, twice in the past, he indicated to me he may be open to considering this Bill. I am saying to the Government Deputies on the far side of the House and to the Ministers present to bring the message back to the Minister, Deputy Creed, that we need to move on with this and create transparency and certainty for farmers and for workers in factories.