While the horsemeat controversy has not affected the core fresh beef business, it will inevitably leave a lasting impression on the relatively small frozen processed beef segment of the market.
DNA sampling has become an integral part of the monitoring landscape and all products will require quality-assured accreditation. Work is under way to simplify and shorten supply chains in some parts of the processed beef market.
Of course, the problem goes beyond Ireland. The fraudulent adulteration and mis-labelling of some frozen manufacturing beef with horsemeat is a pan-European issue. Decisive action is required at an EU level to ensure consumer concerns are addressed comprehensively. The Irish beef industry is well-positioned to respond.
Already the sector is operating new DNA testing protocols agreed with the FSAI and the Department of Agri-culture. Comprehensive and robust traceability systems are also in place that track product from farm through processing to the market, all under the monitoring of the regulatory authorities. While there are a few exceptions, for the vast majority of beef exports the supply chain is simple and short, involving no more than two or three steps from the farm to the retail shelf or restaurant.
When we come to looking back on 2013 in future years, however, the horsemeat controversy will only be part of the story. Ultimately the food supply chain will have been strengthened as a result of the lessons learned. On the other hand, it is the outcome of the current CAP negotiations that is likely to have the greater impact on the future development of the beef industry.
Today, the Council of EU Agriculture Ministers meets in Brussels to thrash out a compromise CAP reform position, before entering into talks with the European Parliament and the commission. The aim is to reach agreement by June, under the Irish presidency.
The Irish beef sector has made significant progress in growing the value of output in recent years, with exports reaching €1.9bn in 2012. But achieving the Food Harvest 2020 target of 40% output value growth in beef, or an additional €600m, is dependent on maintaining our national suckler cow herd. This is important not only from a volume perspective, but also to the premiumisation of quality-assured Irish beef sales.
Irish negotiators must reject any excessive flattening or redistribution of the single farm payment, which would effectively reduce support for productive agriculture. Such a move would undermine productivity and farm output, and would in turn directly affect jobs and growth in the processing sector.
The current proposals on the proportion of the CAP budget that can be used for coupled supports for vulnerable sectors are also grossly unfair. Ireland should not be restricted to 5% of the budget when other member states can go to 10%. In fact, we should have the option to use up to 15% of the budget to target support at areas such as suckler cows or the ewe flock.
The Irish meat and food processing industry has the potential to create thousands of jobs in the coming years, but the conditions must be right. The decisions being taken this year will have a lasting effect. It’s vital the right choices are made.
* Cormac Healy is director of Meat Industry Ireland
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