I was raised in the market town of Carrickmacross, where I fondly remember wandering around the cattle market of a Friday, curiously looking at the animals in their stalls and the hustle and bustle in the auction house. I also recall the relative open nature of the slaughter of animals in the local town butchers.
However in recent years, this sector has become overly industrialised. While there has been efforts made to improve animal welfare, there has been seemingly no efforts made to improve the welfare of farmers and the industry’s workforce. This is an industry that appears to treat our livestock better than we treat our people.
As it stands there are currently only 3 companies that control 65% of the traditional Irish beef processing market. The IFA and our farmers have accused this industry of cartel-like behaviour. These companies have continued to amass huge profits and market-share at the expense of our farmers. The organic beef market is in even worse shape, with only two purchasers, both of whom are controlled by a single majority stakeholder.
It is clear that we need to shift our focus to creating a circular economy that will allow for local and community-led production. Not only will this make the whole industry more sustainable, but it will also allow our farmers more control in the market, shortening the supply chain as a result and increasing income.
Ireland has already seen success in the creation of local businesses in similar areas. In recent decades, we have seen a huge increase in the number of microbreweries and distilleries, where before there were only a handful of big players. The state has given the needed support for that industry to prosper and generate sustainable local business.
It is possible to buy locally sourced and slaughtered produce in many parts of the country, creating sustainable jobs for communities and high-quality food for consumers. We have also seen success with dairy farmers having access to cooperatives. The recent crisis has made it abundantly clear that changes like these, and more, need to be made to improve the working conditions in our beef industry.