Our beef ready for return to US tables after a 16-year ban
Published 20/06/2014 | 02:30
IRISH beef will be in US shops by Christmas, marking the end of a 16-year long ban.
It will give the beef industry a multi-million boost.
The prediction was made by leading US and Irish agriculture officials, Secretary Tom Vilsack and Minister Simon Coveney, during a whistle-stop tour of Irish farms yesterday.
Beef was first removed from American shops at the height of the BSE crisis that hit the Irish cattle herd in the late 1990s.
"We would be very surprised if there were any problems," Mr Vilsack told journalists during a tour of Stephen Morrison's 80 cow beef farm in Kildare.
The US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service first gave the green light to EU beef imports last November, but final audits of meat export plants commence here on June 30.
"This is the end game now," said Agriculture Minister Mr Coveney: "Mr Vilsack's job is done now in terms of the politics. I expect a formal announcement on this within six weeks."
While Ireland was only exporting 110t of beef to the US prior to the ban, meat industry analysts here believe that there is a much bigger opportunity for Irish beef being sold as a premium 'grass-fed' product.
If even just 1pc of the 500,000 tonnes of beef that is produced here annually was diverted to the US, it would equate to €50m in terms of premium value cuts. Crucially, it would also reduce the industry's dependence on Britain and the EU.
Mr Coveney will be flying out to New York on Sunday to begin a series of meetings with major beef buyers in the hope of securing lucrative contracts for Ireland's €2bn beef industry.
Mr Vilsack has been meeting EU agriculture ministers all week in an effort to keep trade talk negotiations progressing between the two regions.
Meanwhile, Hill farmers have protested about restrictions under new EU environmental programmes.
Several hundred farmers gathered outside the Department of Agriculture to highlight concerns about restrictions in special areas of conservation (SACs) and on common grazing.
Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) president Eddie Downey said there was particular opposition to a collective agreement rule where 80pc of farmers must agree on how many animals could graze on commonage, and on payment levels for protected nature zones.