Talks between representatives of the meat industry, the Beef Plan Movement, farming organisations and Government agencies, aimed at resolving a dispute over beef prices, look set to run late into the night.

It is understood that some progress has been made on a number of issues to boost transparency in the beef sector.

These include movement on the possible development of a price index that would help relate prices for processed beef in the market back to the prices paid to farmers.

Sources also indicated that there has been progress on agreeing a review of the specifications that determine what price is paid for cattle.

Progress has also been reported on agreeing the terms of reference for a review of the "grid" - the system by which a grade is allocated to all animals killed in factories and the resulting payment to farmers that results from that grade.

The current grid has been in operation for over a decade and has been the subject of sustained criticism from some farmers since it was introduced.

A short time ago the parties involved in the talks broke for one hour, to enable them to get something to eat - an indication that the talks look set to continue late into the night.

Speaking to RTÉ News during the break in the talks, Pat McCormack, President of the ICMSA said he would like to think that progress was being made.

But he said the first indication of that would become apparent when they resume talks tonight and see the summary document.

He confirmed progress had been made around issues such as a beef price index and a review of the beef price "grid".

But he said while those are the headline issues, the real issue is transparency and trust.

He said the atmosphere had been tense but overall reasonable.

Mr McCormack said there is an awareness in the industry now that what has happened over the past decade cannot continue to happen.

Also speaking during a break in the talks, Joe Healy, IFA President, said there had been a huge amount of discussion.

He said a plan for Brexit is critically important as is a price index that gives more transparency to the sector.

Mr Healy said farmers hadn’t seen a clear plan from the Minister as to what would happen in the event of a crash out Brexit.

He said IFA representatives would stay as long as necessary to make progress.

Earlier, the talks were described by various sources close to the discussions as tense, difficult and technical.

They began with a presentation from Bord Bia about the current state of the beef sector.

Representatives of the various organisations then outlined their positions and proposals.

The Beef Plan Movement has a 13-point plan for reform of the sector which includes a review of the link between upper age limit of cattle and price, as well as insurance measures and changes to the way factory agents work.

Proposals tabled by the Irish Farmers Association include a new price index that delivers full transparency on margins, a new independent regulator for the sector, an immediate ban on all substandard South American beef imports, as well as a second beef fund to compensate farmers who supplied cattle post 12 May 2019, who it says are currently losing €4m per week on beef prices.

The ICMSA, which represents dairy farmers, told the meeting problems in the sector are systemic and long-standing and would require a committed and impartial top-to-bottom review.

It said that in the meantime, concessions on some "pointless" specifications and a concerted and energised effort on live exports could help move the sector forward.

It is understood that discussions are now focused around a range of issues such as quality assurance, specifications and grading of cattle.

Promotion of grass fed beef is also being discussed.

It is unclear for how long the talks will continue.

On Friday, nationwide pickets of meat plants across the country by members of the movement were suspended pending the outcome of the discussions.

For several weeks, Beef Plan Movement members and individual farmers have been protesting outside meat factories to highlight their concerns about low beef prices.

They say their sector is in crisis with beef and suckler farmers incurring losses of between €150 and €200 per animal.

Speaking on his way into the discussions in Co Kildare, Joe Healy, President of the Irish Farmers Association said the organisation is determined that progress is made today to address the severe income crisis that Irish beef farmers have endured.

"I think it is very fair to say that factories have decimated the confidence, the hope, the viability of Irish farmers over the past few months and last few years," he said.

"This has to change and the Minister has to be involved in that change."

He said the IFA's bottom line is that farmers see an increase in the margin they receive from the consumer euro and price is key in that.

Farmers cannot be expected to produce beef below the cost of production, he added.

Mr Healy said it was disappointing that both retailers and the European Commission are not taking part in the talks.

He said that the organisation would remain at the table as long as it takes to get a successful outcome, a sentiment echoed by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA).

ICSA President Edmond Phelan said farmers are at their wits end.

"Business as usual is not working," he said.

"We need a comprehensive review of the beef grid. We produce the best beef in the world and farmers are on their knees, especially after last year, bad weather, and now we have to have a sustainable price."

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Asked what would happen if the talks do not yield a positive outcome, Mr Phelan said he did not know.

"I didn't start the protests, I can't stop protests," he claimed.

He added that he hopes some issues are resolved today but it will be a long drawn out process.

He said it was time that the meat industry spent money fighting the negative press that beef has been getting lately.

"We need the meat industry at our back, not promoting vegan burgers," he added.

Representatives of the meat industry declined to speak to the media ahead of the talks as did members of the Beef Plan Movement.

The Department of Agriculture refused to confirm or deny whether Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed is at the talks venue, saying only that the talks are being chaired by an independent chairman.

The pickets across the country led to a dramatic slowdown in beef production, the temporary layoff of workers and, more recently, the closure of 14 plants.

This prompted meat plant owners to warn on Thursday that they planned to take legal action to stop the protests.

But on Friday evening, Minister Creed announced that the Beef Plan Movement and industry body Meat Industry Ireland had accepted compromise proposals for talks aimed at breaking the ongoing impasse.

All protests and legal proceedings were suspended immediately until discussions involving the various parties have concluded.