The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has found "no evidence" that a price cartel exists in the beef processing industry.
Last autumn and earlier this year, Irish farmers held several protests in Dublin city centre demanding better beef prices while blockades also took place in some retail distribution centres.
The Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) accused retailers of driving down food prices.
The CCPC's role is to investigate allegations of anti-competitive behaviour and to determine whether there is sufficient evidence of a breach of competition law to warrant the initiation of court proceedings.
In a statement, the CCPC said that in 2019, it received "a significant number of complaints" about the beef sector and as a result commenced a detailed and extensive examination. The majority of these complaints related to five core issues:
- the similarity in base price per kilo offered by processors to beef farmers across all beef processing plants which was indicated as evidence of the existence of a cartel operated by beef processors;
- dissatisfaction with the qualitative criteria for the payment of "in-spec" bonuses applied by beef processors;
- the importing of foreign beef;
- the operation of feedlots distorts competition;
- and the impact of a reported monopoly on offal processing.
The CCPC said it needed to determine if there was evidence of a breach of competition law to enable it to open a full investigation.
"Despite considerable engagement with various beef industry stakeholders" it found "no evidence of a cartel agreement between beef processors in the State".
The CCPC also found no evidence to show that the criteria applied by beef processors for the payment of "in-spec" bonuses breaches competition law.
As to concerns that a single firm holds a dominant position in the rendering and offal sectors, the CCPC said it was not illegal for a firm to hold a dominant position. However, a firm in a dominant position which engages in abusive conduct is considered to have breached competition law.
The CCPC said a number of specialist operators are active in offal processing and do not appear to share a common ownership structure.
"The CCPC has not found any evidence of conduct by these operators that would raise suspicions that they have engaged in anti-competitive behaviour."
The CCPC concluded that "following an extensive review and assessment of all the information gathered on foot of the complaints about the beef industry" it has formed the view that there is "insufficient evidence of a breach of competition law to warrant taking any further action at this time".
It has now written to groups including Independent Farmers of Ireland, the Beef Plan Movement, and the IFA, regarding the outcome of its review into their complaints.