Aidan Cotter, CEO of the food board, told the recent Oireachtas Agriculture Committee discussion on the beef and livestock sector that this beef is excluded by the major multiples — Tesco, ASDA and Sainsbury’s — which are the largest purchasers.
Mr Cotter says they require either British beef — born, reared and slaughtered in the UK — or Irish beef — born, reared and slaughtered in the Republic of Ireland. He linked this stricture to a decline in live exports to Northern Ireland (by 13% in 2013), and to Britain. This occurred despite falling prices in Ireland, with the average price paid for R3 steers in Northern Ireland going 6.5% higher last year (from 4% higher in 2012), and the differential between prices paid in Ireland and Britain increasing from 10% to 12%.
“Historically, the higher beef prices might have made Irish store cattle more attractive to UK buyers. However, in practice, the prospect of selling finished cattle, which were born in the Republic of Ireland, to the processing companies in the UK has become less viable in recent times. This is largely a consequence of the fact that the beef from these animals does not meet the buying specifications of the major supermarket chains in that market,” he says.
Bord Bia has been in discussion with the multiple retailers about stocking beef from Irish-born animals that was finished and slaughtered in the UK. “The response, in each case, was uniform and unequivocal that they are unwilling to change from their cur rent supply ar rang ement.”
However, Irish live-cattle exports in general have increased 7% this year, with a strong start to calf exports, mainly to the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain. Weanling exports are also going well.
Mr Cotter says Bord Bia have been working closely with the meat factories to get each plant approved and licensed for exporting to the recently opened Japanese market. “The product is produced in small volumes by each meat plant and there is a need to collaborate in order to achieve a critical mass. We are examining different options with the factories and it is moving apace,” he says.
Difficulties in getting cattle across England are hitting live shippers, according to Paddy Gernon of the Irish Cattle Exporters Association.
In the recent Oireachtas Agriculture Committee discussion on the beef and livestock sector, Mr Gernon said that exporters have been forced until recently to go from the North to Cairn-ryan in Scotland, with livestock having subsequently to travel for up to ten hours to their destination in England.
He said pressure from the IFA and ICMSA has led to Stena Line resuming a service for livestock from Rosslare to Fish-guard, which is about €550 more expensive than the company’s Belfast to Cairnryan sailing, per transport unit.
As a result, animals are arriving in excellent condition.
“But that is only of benefit to Welsh importers.
“There are no restrictions and there is no problem in shipping cattle.
“We have a market for them. The problem lies in getting them there. One can get to the continent easily enough, for example, from Rosslare to Cherbourg, but one cannot get across England.”
On ships for the trade to north Africa, he said, “The Irish specification is higher than that of any other country in the world. It is a good thing in a way.”
The Irish specification was introduced about 10 years ago.
Two shipping companies in the Netherlands have said they could not supply the Irish specification, according to Mr Gernon.
“That ship has not even been made yet.
“Ships have been converted that are doing it now and the trade to Libya is all right. There are not enough ships to take cattle to Libya.”
Joe Burke of Bord Bia told the committee two boatloads of cattle have been sent to Libya this year, mostly young bulls between 12 and 14 months.