Meat Industry Ireland has said that it is willing to explore flexibility with regard to the weight of cattle they buy from farmers. 

The organisation wants to move to a more constructive engagement with farmers, who have mounted a campaign of nationwide protest to highlight the crisis in the beef sector caused by changes in beef specifications introduced by factories. 

The specification changes affected the weights, ages, and breeds of cattle that factories were prepared to buy, as well as changes to the quality payment structure that had been agreed within the industry.

The impact of the changes have severely damaged farm incomes and caused beef farmers to suffer very significant losses.

The announcement that meat factories are willing to explore flexibility in cattle weights comes after a meeting between Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney and Meat Industry Ireland yesterday.

The minister urged the factories to consider the need to restore confidence among beef farmers in order to protect the long-term viability of the beef industry and the vital role it plays in the rural, national and export economy.

Exactly how much flexibility the meat factors are likely to consider however is unclear, as they re-emphasised in their statement that there is a clear and well publicised market trend towards a preference for lower beef carcase weights.

Meat industry Ireland said it is willing to meet with IFA representatives to discuss the ongoing crisis.

Meanwhile, beef farmers have staged a blockade at a McDonald's fast food restaurant in Kilkenny in their ongoing campaign to highlight the situation they are in.

IFA President Eddie Downey, who led the protest, said farmers feel betrayed and badly let down by what he called unacceptable behaviour and a lack of corporate responsibility on the part of powerful players in the beef supply chain, including meat factories, retailers, and food service outlets like McDonald's, Burger King, and Supermac's.

He pointed out that beef prices for farmers are down by €200 per herd compared with this time last year and that the price cuts cannot be justified. 

McDonald's burgers are exclusively supplied by Dawn Meats, one of the big three meat processors in the country.

Just like other meat factories Dawn Meats has been able to buy beef at significantly lower prices than last year and yet the price of burgers to consumers in McDonald's restaurants and elsewhere have not come down at all over the past year. 

Farmers are adamant that they are not being treated fairly by others in the food supply chain.