US beef market could be worth €100m annually

ICSA says farmers will remain sceptical, amid ‘downward manipulation of prices by meat industry’

A new deal allowing Irish beef to be sold in the US for the first time in over 15 years could be worth well over €100m a year to this country.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney confirmed the scale of the potential windfall to the beef industry, after it emerged Ireland would be the first EU state to secure access to the US market. The ban was imposed following the BSE outbreaks in Britain and Ireland in the late 1990s, but a drop in beef herds has seen its removal by US secretary for agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Concerns in the US about European beef products had related to the widescale use of growth hormones on cattle, a practice banned in Ireland after a number of BSE-related cases.

Mr Coveney said the policy switch was a “huge step” forward for Ireland, given the size of the US market and its interest in premium grass-fed beef.

He said the deal could bring in €100m this year alone, with the potential to exceed that figure.

EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan joined health commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis and trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström in welcoming the move.

“This re-opening of the market is a welcome first step to abolish the disproportionate and unjustified US ban that followed the BSE crisis of the 1990s, and to re-establish normal trading conditions... It is now desirable that the US acts expeditiously to extend the approval to the rest of the European Union and to fully bring their import conditions in line with international standards.”

Irish produce will be sold as a “premium green beef” item in the US, meaning it can be guaranteed to be free of growth hormones and to have been fed on a grass diet instead of grain and maize which is more common in the US. Th

e Department of Agriculture originally saw Irish produce as a “niche” seller among the Irish-American community when the idea was first suggested two years ago.

Before the US ban, Ireland accounted for just 110 tonnes of the 11m-tonne American market, worth the equivalent of €20m.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) president Patrick Kent said: “This could be a very important development for hard-pressed beef farmers, provided that the meat industry and Bord Bia market Irish beef as a premium product with a view to improving returns to farmers.

“However, farmers will remain sceptical, given the ruthless downward manipulation of prices by the meat industry over the past 12 months. They are still waiting to see concrete benefits from previous announcements of new markets.”

ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan said proposals by the industry for a €3/head quality-assured bonus demonstrated contempt for farmers and the minister.

Joe Ryan of Meat Industry Ireland — the Ibec group that represents meat processors — said the industry had pursued for several years the re-opening of the US market. “While we are awaiting clarification on some aspects, it is important now to get an agreed certificate in place .”

Irish beef firms have been developing new customer contacts for some time.


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