'Fifth quarter' offering up bigger fraction of return

Caitriona Murphy

Waste not, want not, as the saying goes. While Irish consumers might turn up their noses at eating the so-called 'fifth quarter' in a meat carcase, there are plenty of consumers around the world who chow down on offal with gusto.

The Chinese and other Asian populations eat practically every part of the beef and pork carcase, including lips, ears, cheek, rumen, lungs, casings, oesophagus, membrane and stomach.

As a result, both demand and prices for the fifth quarter has increased significantly in recent years. Back in 2009, Bord Bia's emerging market director James O'Donnell highlighted the potential that the Chinese market offered for Irish offal exports.

Last year, the Chinese imported 411,600t of frozen offal, although how much of this originated in Ireland and Europe is unknown.

Irish meat processors needed very little encouragement to target the Asian market and today sell much of the 'white offal', such as tendons and aortas, to traders who deal in offal exports to Asia.

Today, instead of paying for offal to be rendered, factories can harvest, pack and sell parts of the animal for a profit.

The trade for 'red offal', such as hearts, livers and kidneys, has remained fairly steady, heading to the traditional markets of France, Italy and other European countries.

However, much of this red offal is now being sold into the manufacturing trade and not directly to the housewife, as was the case in years gone by.

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The IFA claims that the value of the fifth quarter in a beef animal is now in the region of 30c/kg, while factory sources maintain that the entire fifth quarter, including the hide, is worth around €90-100 per carcase.

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