The potential to grow the live trade to the UK further is constrained by the buying specifications operated by the British retail chains in relation to cattle born in this country and exported live for finishing and processing in the UK market, according to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney.

It has long been retailers’ policy to market British and Irish beef separately and they are unlikely to reverse this soon. “While Bord Bia has repeatedly raised this issue with British retailers over the years, they are unlikely to reverse their marketing policy in the short term. The fact that the price of British beef has fallen significantly in recent times, and that the three UK retail outlets which stock Irish beef are currently under pressure to stock more British beef, is also a relevant consideration in this regard.”

He was speaking in the Dail last week, answering questions from Roscommon-South Leitrim TD Denis Naughten and said he is engaging with his Northern counterpart, Michelle O’Neill, about the matter. “In so far as common market rules are concerned, however, as I have already explained, the issues relating to purchase of Irish born animals by Northern slaughterhouses and the purchase of the meat from such animals by UK retail outlets are a matter of commercial procurement strategy by these operators.

“This means that beef must be sourced from animals originating in one country; i.e. born, reared and slaughtered in the same country. In addition, logistical difficulties arise when a small number of Irish-born animals are slaughtered in a UK meat plant. Under mandatory EU labelling rules, these carcases have to be deboned in a separate batch, packaged and labelled accordingly, thereby incurring additional costs for the processor. These issues are a matter of commercial preference, both of slaughter plants in the UK and Northern Ireland, and of UK retailers.

“Nevertheless Bord Bia, in its ongoing interactions with British customers, will continue to pursue all opportunities to maximise the full potential of the beef and livestock trade with our largest trading partner. In addition Bord Bia actively supports the development of the live export trade through the provision of market information, developing market access and promotional activity.”

He went on to say that his Department attaches considerable importance to the live export trade and, over the years, has been very active in facilitating both the cross border live trade and shipments abroad. “Live exports serve a dual purpose as a means of satisfying market demands for live animals and providing alternative market outlets for farmers. Total live exports to the end of June this year stand at almost 160,000 head of which almost 28,000 went to the UK, an increase of some 3,300 head or 14% up on the comparable period in 2013. Of this 28,000, some 20,200 went to Northern Ireland which is an increase of 5% on the same period in 2013.”