Wednesday, 13 October 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Minister for Agriculture and Food (Mary Coughlan): The price paid by meat processors for animals is a commercial issue and one in which I have no direct role. Nonetheless it is clearly in the interests of the meat industry and the food supply chain that a fair return from meat sales is available to both primary producers and processors. In this regard the decision to decouple direct payments from their associated production from next year will realign production with market expectations and the market will be the sole determinant of the nature and scale of output from the sector.
As regards beef, prices have been satisfactory in 2004 with R3 steer prices 11% higher compared with the same period last year. Beef prices are currently showing the usual seasonal decline and the downward pressure on price is also in part due to poor returns from Russia, where prices have dropped significantly, and to a weakness in the UK market for particular cuts. In recent years the focus has switched to the higher value EU market where returns are forecast to improve in the longer term as the effects of decoupling across the Community take effect.
Given the growth in intra Community sales, Ireland is now well placed to consolidate its EU market position and to move further up the value chain. This is particularly so given the emergence of an EU market deficit in beef for the first time in 25 years. Russia remains the key third country market for Irish beef and I was pleased last week to announce the re-opening of the Algerian market, traditionally an important market for Irish beef. This will provide a welcome additional outlet for Irish beef, particularly in the autumn period.
With regard to sheep, prices have remained stable compared to last year. Recent average prices for lamb are running slightly below last year’s level due to higher levels of supply, which are 10% ahead of last year’s total. Finally, greater emphasis on good breeding policies, payment related to quality, sophisticated integrated supply and purchasing systems, together with more competitive processing structures are key to maximising long term returns from cattle and sheep.
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