The renewal of access to China for Irish beef exports must be accompanied by an increase in prices paid to farmers, the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has said.

Francie Gorman, who took over as IFA president from Tim Cullinan last week, welcomed the development that beef access to the Chinese market will resume, which was confirmed by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue today (Wednesday, January 17).

The issue is understood to have formed part of talks between members of the Irish government (including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar) and the Chinese Premier (equivalent of prime minister) Li Qiang, who visited Ireland today.

However, Gorman said that, while the development today is welcome, it must be translated into a higher price for beef farmers.

“We are always seeking access to as many markets as possible and the Chinese market offers very significant opportunities. The renewal of access to this market must be reflected in further price increases for farmers,” Gorman said.

Beef shipments to China had been suspended following the confirmation in November 2023 of an isolated case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE – also known as mad cow disease).

Atypical BSE occurs sporadically in all cattle populations at a very low rate and is not considered a public health risk.

Identification of an atypical BSE case does not impact on Ireland’s negligible risk status for BSE.

Gorman said that the suspension last November was “disappointing”.

The IFA president commented: “Given the nature of the case which brought about the suspension, there shouldn’t have been any delay in regaining access.

“Beef farmers will hope the formalities are concluded as quickly as possible and that trade will resume,” Gorman added.

‘Credit due to ministers’

The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) had also responded to today’s development, saying that “credit was due to the ministers and their officials”, referring to Minister McConalogue and Minister of State for new market development Martin Heydon.

Denis Drennan, the association’s president, said: “Taken together with the recent uptick in beef prices, the sector can now look into 2024 with more confidence.”

Beef exports to China

Commenting on the decision of authorities in China to reopen access for Irish beef, Minister McConalogue said: “Negotiating the resumption of beef access has been a top priority for me since the temporary suspension last November.

“Utilising relationships that have been developed over recent years, my department has engaged at diplomatic, political and technical levels to provide the scientific and technical detail needed to reassure the Chinese authorities of the effectiveness of Ireland’s BSE controls.”

The minister added that China’s decision to resume Irish beef imports on the same conditions as before represents a “clear vote of confidence” in Ireland’s food safety systems and in the output of its beef sector.