Meat plant owners are to take legal action to stop protests outside factories for over a week, which have led to a slowdown in beef production, as well as the temporary layoff of employees.

Meat Industry Ireland, which represents beef processing plants, said 14 plants have been forced to close and others are operating below capacity because of the inability of trucks carrying livestock to enter their premises,

Pickets have mounted outside by members of the Beef Plan Movement, as well as individual farmers.

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"The illegal blockading of factories has increased the risk of businesses losing customers that they have supplied and developed over the past 20 years," Meat Industry Ireland said in a statement.

The body also accused the protesters of "creating serious health and safety risks" and said it is "extremely disappointed" that the Minister for Agriculture's attempts to start talks were "rejected" by the protesters.

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"Unfortunately, because of Beef Plan blockades, and in the aftermath of its refusal to enter talks brokered by the minister, businesses have, as a last resort, been left with no choice other than to seek legal remedy in an effort to prevent Beef Plan from causing further damage to the Irish beef industry," Meat Industry Ireland said.

Minister for Agriculture and Food Michael Creed said efforts by his office to reach out to the Beef Plan Movement and begin talks if it temporarily suspended it protests had been rejected.

The Minister has again called on both sides to reflect on their positions.

"This is a very difficult situation for everybody involved," the minister told RTÉ News, adding that the farmers who have been protesting have succeeded in raising awareness of their concerns around beef prices.

Mr Creed, who described himself as "an honest broker", said contact was made with both sides overnight with a view to starting negotiations and an agreement was in place to convene discussions.

"The only conditionality was that, while those talks were taking place, they would suspend their strike action," Minister Creed said.

"I would say to the Beef Plan at this stage to reflect further. I would also say to the meat industry to step back from the brink of legal action. We need space now for people to reflect and see how we can collectively, together, progress this issue."

However, the Beef Plan Movement reiterated its stance that it "will not enter into talks with preconditions attached" and that the pickets will continue.

"The minister should be focused on bringing forward legislation to prevent this situation happening again and protect the primary producers," a spokesman for the movement said.

More than 150 operative workers out of a total workforce of about 350 at Dawn Meats in Grannagh, Co Kilkenny, were put on protective notice yesterday, meaning that they can be temporarily let go at any time.

An industry source said that at least three beef plants, including that at Grannagh, have already started implementing temporary layoffs.

Another industry source indicated that a growing number of plants around the country are in the position where their operations are stopped or slowing to a halt.

Meat Industry Ireland said earlier this week that it will not engage in negotiations as long as pickets are in place outside beef plants.