Factories ramp up trial slaughter runs for Chinese orders

Crowds sample Irish beef at Bord Bia's stand at a major import fair in China.
Crowds sample Irish beef at Bord Bia's stand at a major import fair in China.
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

Killing for China has been ramped up over the last fortnight, with trial slaughter runs taking place in a number of beef plants that were cleared for export to the Far Eastern market last month.

It is understood that Dawn Ballyhaunis was killing for the Chinese last week, and trials are also believed to have taken place at other plants.

Fourteen factories were given the green light to supply beef to China last month, taking the total number of Irish sites cleared for the business to 21.

Industry sources accepted that increased demand could lead to a lift in beef prices, with some admitting that returns on fore-quarter cuts from the Chinese market were running 20-25pc ahead of those available from EU buyers.

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"If the demand levels continue to grow then the Chinese will have to pay the price," one senior meat sector executive conceded.

However, he pointed out that there was still a backlog of cattle, although mart managers and dealers report a definite tightening in supplies of in-spec stock.

Ironically, increased activity for the Chinese market could hit demand for heavy cattle and cull cows.

Conditions

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Under the strict conditions governing the Chinese contract, all stock must be under 30 months of age and from TB-free herds.

The stock for China must also be transported and killed separately from animals that do not meet the qualifying criteria.

These stipulations have put pressure on throughput in some factories and are limiting the scope for plants to kill dairy cull cows and over-weight cattle.

The limiting of the cow kill in some southern factories has resulted in farmers waiting up to three weeks to get cows killed, Des Morrison of ICMSA said.

"I am calling on processors to ensure that all categories of stock are killed in an orderly fashion," Mr Morrison said.

China has been scouring world markets in search of protein sources to replace 18m tonnes of domestic pork production lost due to the African Swine Flu epidemic which has resulted in 45-50pc of the country's sows being culled to date.

This has driven up global beef prices. In Uruguay beef has topped €3.90/kg, an increase of over 40pc. Beef prices in the US are up 45pc and have reached €3.70/kg, while €3.40/kg has been paid in Australia for better-quality steers.

This week saw increased pressure on beef factories to deliver a price lift for Irish farmers which reflected the stronger demand on world markets.

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