Deputy Anthony Lawlor: I am delighted to be able to speak on this issue. I acknowledge that the beef industry makes a huge contribution to the Irish economy, with almost 100,000 people involved in it, whether on the suckler side or, as in most cases in my constituency, in the finishing of cattle for the factories. The main issue being discussed here is price, but there are other issues that must be acknowledged. Many of my constituents are having problems in two areas, first with getting cattle into the meat factories for slaughter and second with getting confirmation on the size or weight required.
Many of my constituents are finishers who end up producing big, heavy, continental type cattle, but they cannot get them into meat factories currently. They are being penalised because of the size of the cattle. Meat factories are now looking for O3 type cattle, which are mainly the beef cattle coming off the dairy sector. This is completely wrong. I know from my experience in the sheep sector that any time I produce a lamb in excess of 21 kg or 22 kg, I do not get paid for the extra weight produced. Something must be done in this regard. The factories must be made pay for the cattle that are brought to them.
We must acknowledge what both the Minister and Minister of State have done. It is cynical of Fianna Fáil to criticise the Minister. I was with him last week on a suckler farm in Kildare when he brought the US Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, to the farm in his effort to open up a market. The key to this issue is improved markets. We have a quality product – grass fed cattle. Look at Europe and the US and it is all corn fed cattle there. We have a quality product we should be selling to the market and must send out a strong message on that.
I welcome the €500,000 that has been allocated to Bord Bia. More must be done on that. I also stress that while we are opening up markets, we should acknowledge what has been done in the past. I would like to highlight in particular the Irish Dairy Board, which branded Irish butter as “Kerrygold”. Perhaps we should look at this in the context of beef. We must pull the meat factories together, pull Bord Bia together and get Irish beef recognised as a specific brand so the world will recognise it as coming from a grass fed animal and quality produced. What the world needs is a quality product. This is the message we should be sending, instead of sitting here and listening to the bickering coming across from Fianna Fáil, which has no positive outcome at all. Based on what has been going on within Fianna Fáil in the past couple of days, it would rather have Irish agriculture out of Europe. It is important we market our quality Irish grass fed beef properly.