Members of the Irish Farmers Association's Pig Committee met with Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue tonight to discuss the future of the pig sector.

The meeting took place in Agriculture House on Kildare Street.

A number of pig farmers who are seeking a rescue package for their sector continued with their protest outside the building, demanding a €100 million rescue package for the sector.

Farmers say they are enduring losses of thousands of euro every week, due to massive increases in the cost of feed coupled with prices far below production cost.

Speaking at the protest, IFA pigs chairman Roy Gallie said the situation could not be more stark.

"We are caught in a devastating price/cost squeeze. Some farmers have already culled breeding sows and more are suspending production. They cannot produce with losses of over €50 per pig and rising."

The proposal they have put to Government, agreed between the IFA, grain merchants and the meat industry, would see the public funding of €100 million going to the sector, €50 million of which pig farmers would repay over 14 years.

Around 300 farmers have been losing on average €56,000 per month each since last September, due to increasing feed and energy costs and poor prices for pig meat.

Those losses are expected to escalate to €71,000 form next week when feed prices rise again. Feed costs amount to 76% of the cost of production.

As a result, 18 farmers have already decided to exit the sector and culling of animals has begun.

Of 10,000 sows initially earmarked for culling, thousands have already been sent to factories for killing.

Farmers are now considering sending an additional 11,000 sows to factories.

Analysis from Teagasc, the research and development agency for the agri sector, shows that farmers are currently paid €1.40 per kg, but would need to get €2.20 in order to break even.

As things stand, they are losing between €40 and €50 per pig. Teagasc also estimates 69 on-farm jobs are lost for every 10,000 sows, with many more downstream jobs also at risk.

A number of international factors have brought about the current crisis. The lucrative Chinese export market is importing less pork after it restored a level of self-sufficiency in the wake of the culling of tens of millions of pigs due to a disease outbreak.

At the same time, disease in some continental countries means their pork products cannot be sold outside the EU. The result is over saturation of the market and prices internationally have dropped.

Ireland exports 73% of pig meat produced here, amounting to €944m. The remaining pig meat is consumed in the Irish market, where consumers have been enjoying lowering prices over the last year.

Minister McConalogue spoke with demonstrators outside his department this afternoon. He said his officials are assessing the proposals but he has made no decision about them.

Earlier, the minister said that he was acutely aware of the challenges in the sector and recently gave the industry €7m, or about €20,000 per farmer to help alleviate production costs.

"Payments have commenced issuing to farm families with further payments issuing this week. This is an urgent, short-term response to assist producers that would be viable but for the extreme current circumstances and allow space for a more medium-term adjustment to market signals," the minister said.

He added that he has instructed State bodies Teagasc and Bord Bia to intensify their efforts regarding advice and promotional work and also met banks to discuss the situation.

Minister McConalogue also said they were working at national and EU level to support the sector through this current serious challenge.