The European Commission has cleared unconditionally the proposed joint venture between Larry Goodman's ABP food group and Slaney Meats.

After an investigation the commission concluded that the merger, which had been strongly opposed by farmers, would not adversely impact on effective competition for the purchase of live animals or on the disposal of animal by-products through rendering, and that it would not be detrimental to retailers or consumers.

Commenting on the decision Frank Stephenson, the Chief Executive of ABP Food Group said the joint venture has always been about securing better international markets for Irish meat products and will allow ABP to compete with much larger global players.

Farm groups have expressed deep disappointment over the decision.

The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) said the merger would give ABP and Slaney combined control over 36% of the premium cattle trade nationally and 44% of the premium cattle trade in the South Leinster region.

IFA President Joe Healy said farmers cannot understand why the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission refused to investigate the case, and accused them of effectively washing their hands of the case and leaving it to the Brussels authorities.

He said the joint venture will increase the income pressures on livestock producers and result in a substantial lessening of competition in the sector.

The Chairman of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Association Edmund Phelan said he is dismayed by the decision of the EU Commission and that it will only add to the perception that the EU is good at regulating small enterprises but is weak on big business.

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He said that farmers are getting squeezed from all sides and that this decision has left farmers in a worse position than before.

Slaney Meats is the fifth largest beef processor in the country and is also the single largest processor of sheep and lambs in the State.

Its beef processing plant at Bunclody, Co Wexford is the country's largest individual slaughtering house with a throughput of 88,000 head cattle per year.

It is currently owned in a 50:50 joint by the Allen Family, based in Co Wexford and the Linden Food Group, a Northern Ireland based beef and lamb processing company majority owned by the Armagh based farmers' Co-operative Fane Valley.

Larry Goodman's ABP Food Group is the largest beef processor in the State with six beef processing facilities around the country and accounting for more than a fifth of all types of cattle slaughtered in the State.

The Joint Venture see's ABP buying the 50% stake in Slaney Meats owned by the Allen Family.