Agriculture Minister Michael Creed talks to top UK chains over beef exports

Agriculture Minister Michael Creed has held direct talks with Britain’s largest supermarket chains in a bid to “cement” Ireland’s position in their stores amid concerns Irish products could be replaced by cheaper non-EU beef after Brexit.
Agriculture Minister Michael Creed talks to top UK chains over beef exports

Mr Creed said Tesco and Sainsbury’s alone take more than €2bn in Irish agri-food products every year — roughly 20% of our entire exports market for the sector.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner amid ongoing concerns about the unintended impact of Brexit on this country, Mr Creed said the reality was Ireland was in a battle to keep its British market position secure once our nearest neighbour splits from the EU.

However, while stressingthat his counterpart in Britain, Andrea Leadsom, appears open to continuing the close relationship between Ireland and Britain’s farming sectors, he has also met directly with senior officials in Britain’s largest supermarket chains to ensure they share the view.

“I’ve been over to meet the chief executive of Tesco and Sainsbury’s for that reason. For example, of our €10.8bn exports for agri-food in 2015 Tesco globally purchased €1.7bn of that, Tesco UK €700m of that, so we know this [Brexit] is a challenge,” said Mr Creed.

“We are not going anywhere because the UK is the market we understand most and one where we believe the UK consumer has a favourable disposition to us.”

The minister made the comments as he admitted that despite being given “reassurances” from Ms Leadsom that Britain is aware of the issues with cheaper hormone-enhanced non-EU beef, she has failed to rule out agreeing a deal with non-EU countries for the product which could severely damage our position in the British market.

In recent months concern has grown among Irish beef farmers that if Britain chooses to seek its own version of the Mercosur trade deal between south America and the EU, Irish beef exports could be replaced by those from Brazil.

While Brazilian beef is hormone-enhanced — leading to claims it is of lower quality — such a deal would side-step difficulties in negotiating new prices between Britain and the EU, and may be of benefit to large British supermarket chains.

Asked directly about the issue, Mr Creed said he believes Ms Leadsom is aware of the “questionable” nature of Brazilian beef and that it would be an unpopular step among British farmers as Irish beef is considered a “home produce”.

However, he admitted while “reassurances” have been given, the British government has notably not ruled out agreeing a deal with Brazil as Brexit unfolds.

“No she didn’t [rule it out], and I think I need to be upfront and clear about all this. She’s not ruling out anything.

Brexit worries

Almost 90% of Irish farmers warned Brexit would have a negative impact on their lives in response to an Irish Examiner/ICMSA opinion poll published during September’s National Ploughing Championships. According to the nationwide survey.

  • 89% of farmers said Brexit will damage their lives
  • 81% that it will reduce prices
  • 63% that it has already cut prices
  • And 38% that it would impact on Irish farming into the future

Earlier this year economist Colm McCarthy said a “hard” Brexit will damage the food sector, while Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association president John Comer said there is “a huge level of anxiety about Brexit”.

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