The fourth meeting of the Beef Forum chaired by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney is now under way at the Department of Agriculture Laboratory Complex in Co Kildare.

All sides in the on-going beef dispute are hoping for substantial progress on some of the issues that divide them.

The Competition and Consumer Commission had taken a pre-emptive step ahead of the forum of writing to all parties to remind them of their obligations under the competition law in the interests of consumers.

The Commission said it is concerned that the forum discussions could move into competition sensitive issues in relation to price fixing or anti-competitive action.

The Commission told the IFA that a blockade of meat processing plants designed to influence the price of beef may constitute an infrigement of competition law.

However the IFA President Eddie Downey said farmers still reserve the right to protest.

President of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association John Comer  has accused the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission of a "brass-necked" and partisan intervention in the beef crisis to support the position of beef factories.

The commission had took the pre-emptive step ahead of the Beef Forum in Kildare of writing to both to farm organisations and the factories reminding them of their obligations under competition law in the interests of consumers.

The commission said it is concerned that the forum discussions could move into competition sensitive issues in relation to price fixing or anti-competitive collective action.

It said that it would keep any actions or agreements decided by the forum under review.

However, the statement from the commission has drawn a furious reaction from farmer groups.

Mr Comer said the intervention will be seen by farmers as supporting the factories position.

He said it was brass-necked and almost without comparison in terms of insensitivity and display of partisanship.

He also said that the timing of the intervention was deeply suspicious and that it looked like the commission has been whistled up to provide an excuse for the policy of non-intervention which has been the Department of Agriculture line so far.

Mr Comer said it is patent nonsense to say that the intervention by the commission is about protecting consumer interests, and that it will be seen as protecting the practices and profits of meat factories at the expense of the farmers.

A 48-hour nationwide protest by farmers at meat factories ended yesterday afternoon, with farmers vowing to return to the factory gates if the prices they receive for their animals do not increase.

An easing of the beef specification rules that the factories had been using to justify price penalties for certain animals is expected to be agreed.

Farmers, however, are demanding more.

They say they will accept nothing short of a significant increase in price for their animals.