Meat Industry Ireland has said 12 meat plants have ceased operations as a result of ongoing protests by beef farmers.

It said its members have had to lay off staff and have suffered significant losses as a result of the pickets outside meat factories. 

Most of the protests are in defiance of High Court injunctions.

The organisation, which represents meat processors, said customers of Irish suppliers are being forced to source alternative fresh beef from other countries as a result of the blockages in production.

MII Senior Director Cormac Healy said: "This damages the position of Irish beef in the marketplace."

The organisation called for the blockades to end and said the last thing the sector needed, with Brexit on the horizon, is a series of "industry blockades that prevent us supplying our customers in the UK and elsewhere".

The protests have been ongoing all week despite several High Court injunctions against the pickets at several locations.

Five meat processing companies have now been granted injunctions, ordering protesters to end the blockades.

The farmers involved say they want a better price for the cattle they are delivering to the factories for slaughter.

The President of the Irish Farmers' Association said the Minister for Agriculture needs to "haul in" meat industry Ireland to force them to put proposals on the table to improve the price farmers are paid for their cattle.

Joe Healy told RTÉ's Drivetime that Michael Creed must force the group, which represents the meat industry, to improve transparency around pricing in the industry.

Asked if farming organisations had failed to take ownership of the ongoing protests, Mr Healy said that the IFA had gone to court to take action to keep farmers out of prison.

He said there is a huge amount of anger and frustration over the price farmers are being paid for "top quality animals". He said it is not viable and unsustainable.

He said the solution to the ongoing problems is a price increase for beef farmers and he said it is a waste of time going into talks until price is on the table.

Cattle prices have been in decline and across the board and all farming organisations say it is virtually impossible for their members to meet the cost of production.

The latest company to be granted an injunction was Liffey Meats, with plants in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, Ballyjamesduff in Co Cavan, and Hacketstown, Co Carlow.

Protests continued at its facilities overnight and remain in place.

SIPTU Organiser Jason Palmer has said several hundred of its members who are factory workers have been affected by the ongoing beef protests. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Palmer said the workers at meat processing plants have had no active part to play in this dispute and have been asked to take annual leave and endure layoffs. 

The union is calling on Meat Industry Ireland to compensate factory workers who are suffering financial losses and to protect their earnings during these protests.

He said they have no issue with the farmers who are protesting and support them but are calling on Meat Industry Ireland to look after the people affected. 

He said they have not yet spoken with the association and have written to them asking for a meeting within the next five days. 

IFA President Joe Healy said the threat of jailing farmers for protesting outside factories would be fully resisted by his organisation.

Mr Healy said: "While these are not IFA protests, we are completely and utterly opposed to any attempt to bring farmers before the courts and to threaten them with prison."

He said the IFA will provide legal support to any member who is threatened with a court action or jail for protesting outside factories.