Irish sheep meat being 'fast-tracked' for approval in American market
Prospects are holding up for the sheep sector following suggestions from a top official that Irish sheep meat is being fast-tracked for approval for the US market.
Ireland is currently barred from exporting sheepmeat to the US due to the existence of scrapie (TSE) here.
Speaking at a Bord Bia meat market seminar, the assistant secretary at the Department of Agriculture, Brendan Gleason, said that the market may open sooner than expected following Ireland's inclusion in a short-list of countries being considered for exemption to the scrapie ban by the USDA. Mr Gleason is hopeful that the ban may be lifted on Irish sheep exports this year.
The Irish sector has turned around its dependence on carcase exports to more valuable primal cuts over the last decade, according to Bord Bia's sheep specialist, Declan Fennell.
"We were exporting 65pc of our volume as whole carcase 10 years ago, with the rest going as primal cuts. That meant that we were taking a single price for the majority of our product. Today that balance is the opposite, with almost 70pc of our exports being sold as primal cuts.
In contrast, the British sheep sector still sells 65pc of its lambs in carcase form. But we still have a way to go before we catch up with the Kiwis, who have managed to get 90pc of their sales into more valuable primal cuts," he said.
The Irish sector benefitted strongly from the strength of sterling in 2015, which bolstered returns in its biggest market. Sales into Britain still accounts for over 25pc of Irish exports, and overall sales bounced back by 26pc in 2015 on the back of favourable exchange rates.
"Britain is the EU's biggest exporter of sheepmeat, but the strength of the pound made their exports very uncompetitive, and reduced their exports by 21pc during the first 10 months of 2015," said Mr Fennell.