Irish beef processors, north and south of the border, need to find new markets outside the EU, according to the Livestock and Meat Commission Chief Executive Ian Stevenson.
“The UK remains the strongest market in Europe for much of the carcase but to optimise returns to the supply chain from the whole carcase a broader range of market access opportunities outside the EU are needed,” he said.
“Processors in the Republic have the advantage of the weaker Euro at the present time.
“While factories north of the border can supply fully accredited UK origin beef into the UK supermarkets.
“I am aware that finished cattle numbers, particularly south of the border, are forecast to increase in the second half of 2016 placing more beef availability on the market.
“The UK market can take some of the increase as indigenous self-sufficiency in beef within that market has been falling over the past number of years: from 82% in 2011 down to 76% in 2014.
“But, fundamentally, the real challenge facing the island’s beef industry is that of sourcing new markets for our products,” he said.
Stevenson applauds the work of Bord Bia and the Irish government in successfully opening up new beef markets in the United States, the Philippines and Japan with China anticipated shortly.
“And we hope to be following suit here in Northern Ireland during the period ahead. China is about to open up as a market for our pork exports in the very near future and, hopefully, opportunities for beef will follow.
UK industry and government have been working hard through the Export Certification Partnership to develop a broader range of market access opportunities to UK exporters but much work remains to be done.”
Where the US is concerned, Stevenson points out that the real growth potential is in the supply of manufacturing beef into that market.
“The sticking point here concerns the current US requirement to give carcases a lactic acid wash post slaughter, as a means of killing E coli bacteria,” he said.
“Here in the EU, the practice is not to wash carcases but to ensure that our hygiene and processing techniques are such that E coli contamination levels are kept at an absolute minimum from the outset.
“Technical discussions, involving the RoI, UK and US authorities, are ongoing to secure agreement on a way forward on this matter. Once agreed, the way would then be open for meat companies in the Republic of Ireland to put larger quantities of beef into America.
“And, of course, we here in Northern Ireland would be keen to follow suit as quickly as possible.”
Stevenson confirmed that the sustainability and profitability in the beef supply chain was totally dependent on efficient systems producing the right type of animals for the market and processors getting the best possible returns for the entire animal.
“This includes primal cuts, manufacturing beef and the 5th quarter.
“And this will only happen if we manage to secure the broadest range of markets possible for every technical component of our beef animals,” he said.