An offal big business: meat factories find global markets for everything bar the moo

The sale of offal is big business. GettyImages
The sale of offal is big business. GettyImages
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Sales of offal from beef, sheep and pigs is big business, with annual exports from cattle alone worth close to €230m, according to Bord Bia.

And while the bullock may start its days in the back field, it's certainly a globe-trotter of note - no pun intended - by the time it hits the plate.

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Between tongues going to Japan, testicles to Hong Kong, and tails heading for Spain, there's an outlet somewhere on the map for every bit of the bovine.

Indeed, it's been said that the meat factories will sell every part of the cow except the moo.

Gallstones are possibly the most lucrative item on the list. These occur in tiny amounts in some older cows, and are valued at over €35,000/kg. They are used in traditional Chinese medicines, and are considered an aphrodisiac by some in the Far East.

Meat industry and minister clash on value of offal exports

A €160M differential has emerged between figures provided by the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, and the meat industry on the overall value of beef offal exports from Ireland.

Minister Creed told the Dáil recently that total offal exports in 2018 were worth €770m, with beef offal valued at €395m. However, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) claimed the figure for the beef sector is closer to €230m. The figures provided by Minister Creed put the value of offal exports from pigs at €123m, from poultry at €195m, and from sheep at €11m. A further €46m in offal exports was categorised as 'other meat and meat products'.

While Cormac Healy of MII said he could not comment on the accuracy of Minister Creed's figures, he pointed out that Bord Bia's annual report for 2018 had a figure of €230m for beef offal and hide exports.

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In his statement to the Dáil, Minister Creed said the figures he provided were based on "combined nomenclature (CN) codes which are a tool for classifying goods, set up to meet the requirements both of the Common Customs Tariff and of the EU's external trade statistics".

"As such, it cannot be determined whether this data refers exclusively to offals and parts of the carcass that are not being used for meat production.

"It is likely that the above figures overstate the exact amount of our offal exports due to these classification categories," Minister Creed cautioned.

CSO figures put total exports of beef offal in 2018 at €467m.

However, over €228m of this total was categorised as 'prepared and preserved' meat and offal. This leaves a figure of €240m for the remaining offal.

Fianna Fáil Agriculture spokesman, Charlie McConalogue, asked Minister Creed why farmers were not paid for the fifth quarter.

Minister Creed replied that he did not get involved in issues of pricing.

The farm organisations claim that unpaid-for-fifth-quarter material is worth between €120 and €150 per animal to the factories.

However, Cormac Healy pointed out that offals, skins and hides were an important part of "maximising the overall return from the market".

"In so far as possible, every part of the animal needs to find a market outlet and make a contribution.

"Returns from the fifth quarter are very much reflected in the price paid by processors for the animals they purchase," Mr Healy maintained.

Where it all goes

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The Farming Independent asked Bord Bia's Joe Burke for a breakdown of the markets for the more mundane items from the beef animal.

From a 650kg animal producing a 350kg carcass, he said the following saleable offals are generally recovered:

Tongue - 1.5kg Currently the majority of tongues from over-30 month animals are exported in frozen form to the Japanese market. The remainder are vac-packed and go to France, and some to Britain and Belgium.

  • Tail - 1.5kg Fresh vac-packed to France, Belgium, Italy and Spain.
  • Liver - 6.0kg Most sold frozen to France and Britain.
  • Kidneys - 1.0kg: Sold fresh vac-packed to Britain and France - some goes frozen for petfood.
  • Heart - 1.0kg Most goes into petfood
  • Thinskirts (diaphragm) - 1.5kg Mostly frozen for France, some for Sweden and Britain.
  • Thickskirts (diaphragm) - 1.0kg Mostly sold fresh vac-packed for France.
  • Head meat - 1.0kg Mostly low-grade manufacturing meat for Britain and Sweden.
  • Lips - 0.8kg Used as binding ingredient in low-grade manufacture.
  • Lung lobes - 2.5kg Exported in frozen form to France, Poland and Asia.
  • Feet - 8.0kg Some sold frozen to North Africa as scalded beef hocks.
  • Full tripe (stomach) - 5.0kg Key markets are Poland, Ukraine and Hong Kong.
  • Aorta - 0.1kg Hong Kong is the main destination for many of these small items.
  • Tendons - 0.2kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Achilles heel - 0.1kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Skirt/flank membrane - 0.2kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Silverskins - 0.2kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Paddywack (neck ligaments) - 0.2kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Pizzle (penis)- 0.2kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Testicles - 0.3kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Trachea (windpipe) - 0.3kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Wesand (esophagus) - 0.2kg Hong Kong is the main outlet.
  • Spleen - 0.3kg Pharmaceutical industry.
  • Pancreas - 0.2kg Pharmaceutical industry.
  • Casings from small intestine: Used for black and white puddings and in sausages.
  • Hides Are generally worth €30-35 and are mainly sold in Japan and Italy

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