Up to 3,000 workers have been laid off at meat processing plants amid the ongoing dispute over beef prices, according to Meat Industry Ireland.

In a statement, MII said that more than 80% of overall processing capacity has now closed, and said further closures and layoffs are likely in the coming days.

More than 20 plants are blockaded across the country, as beef production grinds to a halt due to blockades and protests by farmers.

The group said it is always open to engage in talks to resolve the issue, but not whilst 

Over 300 workers at the Dawn Meats in Grannagh, near Waterford were laid off temporarily earlier this afternoon.

Dawn Meats says staff will also be laid off at a number of other plants as a result of the ongoing blockade.

Earlier, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has said the refusal of Meat Industry Ireland to engage in talks on the future of the beef sector could close down an entire beef industry, which he said cannot happen.

Mr Creed made the comments at a seminar to prepare the agri-industry for Brexit.

He said all parties need to reflect that unilateral action on either side could exacerbate the situation. 

Mr Creed said he would appeal in particular to MII to reflect on that reality.

The minister said there is a willingness to talk, and all the farm organisations are ready to talk, and meat processors need to reflect on that.

Mr Creed said the ongoing dispute is difficult and protracted and not led by any of the parties around the table on behalf of the farm organisations.

He said communication with the picket lines was fractured and ineffective.

Mr Creed said people should reflect on their actions before anything is done which makes the dispute more difficult or protracted.

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What's the beef between farmers and meat processors?

Meat Industry Ireland has said production is to be wound down at a number of factories throughout the country for an unknown period of time.

The number of farmer protests taking place at factory gates has increased in recent days, with blockades of factories now widespread.

In an indication of the impact of the ongoing protests, the number of cattle killed last week was down 8,000 on the week before.

Meat Industry Ireland is warning that its members are facing what it calls an "indefinite cessation of cattle slaughtering".

The consequence of that may become real for workers today as hundreds could face temporary lay-offs because of the disruption at processing plants.

Speaking in RTÉ's News at One radio programme, Cormac Healy, Senior Director of Meat Industry Ireland, said it was not the industry that had forced the closure of factories, and instead he blamed it on the illegal blockading.

He said one of the fundamental difficulties they were encountering was "who represents who", especially when it came to asking farmers to stop illegally blockading plants across the country.

He said the fact remains that the industry is faced with the vast majority of plants closed down because of the illegal blockading and the uncertainty it is causing.

Mr Healy denied MII was the cause of the stalemate between the industry and farmers, and he added, that the Minister should use his offices to try to encourage "a stepping back from both sides."

As production winds down, farmers will also be denied the opportunity to sell their animals.

Three weeks into pickets at meat plants, the prospect of talks remains unlikely and if anything farmers and factories are further apart.

Talks were due to get under way at Department of Agriculture offices in Backweston, Co Kildare, last night.

However, they were cancelled after meat processors said they would not negotiate when blockades of their facilities were continuing.

The President of the ICMSA said the current situation is extremely worrying and called for engagement in talks.

Pat McCormack said that ultimately it is "around the table talks" that will lead to resolution and he was concerned that people were becoming more entrenched in their corners. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, he said it is not unreasonable for Meat Industry Ireland to ask for stoppages to end before talks can get under way, but said it was unreasonable to ask for a 48 hour stoppage before talks could commence.

Mr McCormack said all parties need to go away and have a calm period of reflection before talks re-commenced.

The Chief Executive of Bord Bia has said there is no threat of beef products "disappearing from shelves" as a result of the current dispute in the sector.

Tara McCarthy said production is currently running at two thirds of capacity.

Whilst there is potential disruption, Ms McCarthy said that international customers are likely to be let down first, if supply issues hit.

This is most likely because just 10% of beef produced here is needed to cater for the Irish market, the remainder is exported.

However, the head of Bord Bia pointed out that with production down, some customers are being affected, but she said, "we are hoping Irish customers won't feel that impact in the shorter term".