The head of one of the country's largest fast-food chains is warning that the future of the small family farm could be under threat. 

Supermacs Chief Executive Pat McDonagh said those on the picket lines outside processing plants are fighting for their livelihoods and are not getting paid enough for their produce. 

He said prices for farmers are the same today as they were 20 years ago, despite increases in costs and overheads. 

Mr McDonagh said there should be a baseline percentage price for farmers which would remain the same regardless of market value.

The businessman said he fears that many small farmers will soon be forced out of business, or taken over by larger operators. 

Mr McDonagh also claims that processors have too much power and control over the beef sector.

With countrywide protests now into a sixth day, there have been calls for the dispute to be brought before the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee.

Independent TD Denis Naughten has written to the committee chairperson to suggest it holds a series of focused bilateral hearings aimed at ending the current impasse. 

He said Meat Industry Ireland, farming organisations, supermarket and consumer groups - as well as the Department of Agriculture - should submit proposals in advance of the hearings.

Mr Naughten said he believes such a process would identify common ground, which might then form the basis of formal discussions with an independent facilitator.