Live cattle exports to Britain are being hit by a technical labelling issue in respect of beef originating in Ireland and finished in Britain.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney outlined the difficulties in a pre-Christmas Dáil debate on the live trade.
Mandatory labelling rules prevent final retailers from describing any beef products derived from animals born in Ireland but exported live for finishing and processing in Britain as either British or Irish.
Labelling of such product has to state the country of birth as Ireland, the country of rearing as Ireland, and the country of slaughter as the UK.
As this is regarded as difficult to communicate to consumers and likely to cause unnecessary labelling complications, British retailers prefer to market British and Irish beef separately as part of their product mix.
This effectively means, as a matter of policy, they prefer beef to be sourced from animals originating in one country only.
In addition, logistical difficulties arise when a small number of Irish-born animals are slaughtered in a UK meat plant.
These carcasses have to be de-boned in a separate batch, packaged and labelled accordingly, incurring additional costs for the processor.
Mr Coveney said Bord Bia has repeatedly raised the labelling issue with the British retail sector.
But the multiples are unlikely to change their stance as they seek to shorten their supply chains in the wake of the equine DNA issue.
Bord Bia will continue to pursue all opportunities to maximise the value and volume of our beef and livestock exports to the UK, he said.
Deputy Denis Naughten said the labelling law in the UK is the same as that in every other EU member state.
Mr Coveney said regardless of what Ireland wants or what suits it, the British beef industry has made a judgement call that British consumers want clarity in terms of labelling.
“Consumers want to know they are buying either British beef or Irish beef,” That is my understanding of the issue,” he said.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív said there was considerable concern about the lack of competition in the cattle and sheep sectors.
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