Thousands of organic cattle being processed by conventional system
Published 29/07/2015 | 02:30
The major challenge for the organic beef industry is producing a year-round supply to satisfy contracts with supermarket chains, according to one processor.
Denis Brennan, from Bunclody-based Slaney Meats which processes a substantial volume of organic cattle, estimates that a third of the organic beef stock end up in the conventional beef finishing system.
"For three-quarters of its life an animal may have been raised organically, then for the last couple of months it is on a conventional farm and sold out," said the Slaney Meats' procurement manager on a farm walk on Dominic Leonard's holding near Durrow, Co Laois.
In a single year, he pointed out 13,000 calves were registered as organic but up to 3,000 cattle were not entering the supply chain.
He singled out the consistency of organic supply as the largest problem, with poor numbers in January, February, March and April.
"It is stopping future growth because of supermarkets not wanting to accept seasonality," he said. "If we as a factory, or we as a country say we can't guarantee it 52-weeks a year, then they'll walk away."
However, there was plenty to be positive about, as customers identified still organic as the "king" when it comes to traceability and animal welfare, said Mr Brennan.
He said the market for organic baby food may be small but it was one of the fastest growing and they've pinpointed France, Holland and Belgium as potential new markets.
New customers were looking for bullocks and heifers between 250 to to 400kg dead weight, of U, R or O grades, quality assured, a fat cover between 2+ and 4+, with Slaney's spec up to 36-months.
"If supermarkets are going to purchase organic beef to be seen as healthy they don't want the beef to be half fat and half meat," he said.
Slaney Meats' main organic buyers are currently Lidl, Marks and Spencers, Jumbo in Holland and they also supply to Portugal.
Bord Bia's Mark Zeig said they see the organics market as "very diverse", with opportunities in the UK, Scandinavia, Germany and Holland.
"Some of the problems we see with people's beef consumption is health concerns, environmental concerns, the ethics around beef consumption in general.
"That is something that organic beef can really profit from," he said.
"Organics from Ireland is where you find maybe less issues about nationalism in that market where Irish and organic comes together to offer a compelling argument."