The American market is set to open for Irish and European beef after being closed due to BSE since 1997, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has announced.

The US banned the importation of Irish and EU beef in 1997 following the BSE outbreak. In the intervening period, as a result of measures taken including the exclusion of specific-risk material and the feed ban, Ireland is now classified as ‘controlled risk’ under the internationally accepted standards of the World Organisation for Animal Health. However, the US policy has not recognised the international standard, thereby blocking market access.

Prior to the ban on beef imports to the US, Irish exports were approximately 110 tonne per annum mostly in frozen boneless cuts. According to the Department of Agriculture, market analysis by Bord Bia would now see Irish beef target a niche market.       

In April 2012, the US Department of Agriculture published a proposed rule to amend the regulations that govern the importation of animals and animal products. It published the final rule this week, which brings US BSE import regulations in line with international animal health standards. 

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney welcomed the decision. In a statement he said it provides “an opportunity for Ireland in the US beef market”. He said the publication of the new regulation is a critical first step and the Agriculture Department is now working to complete specific veterinary requirements.

“My officials will continue to engage with the USDA and Irish producers to finalise the various technical requirements to ensure commencement of the trade at the earliest possible date.”

Noting the potential for the Irish beef sector, the minister said the US consumer, and particularly those of Irish heritage, would be a very interesting market for Ireland’s grass-fed beef. “I am confident that this market will grow strongly as US consumers realise the superior quality of Irish grass-fed beef andthe Irish meat industry and Bord Bia are well placed to develop this niche market to US consumers in the near future.”

The Department of Agriculture will continue discussions with the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to seek approval as soon as possible of Irish meat plants interested in supplying the US market with beef.  A department representative will travel to Washington next week for bilateral discussions with the FSIS.

“The meeting will see submission by the department of a completed  self-reporting tool, which is a detailed USDA questionnaire on our food safety controls,” the department said. The minister is also expected to travel to America next week.

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