Tesco rules out sale of mixed-origin beef
Supermarket giant Tesco has ruled out selling beef from animals born in the Republic and fattened for slaughter in Northern Ireland, claiming shoppers find mixed-origin meat confusing.
This will come as a huge blow to farmers devastated by plummeting beef prices and the erosion of the traditional north-south trade in "nomad" cattle.
Only 6,000 young cattle have been exported north for fattening this year, compared with 40,000 a few years ago.
That is because in the aftermath of the horsemeat scandal many UK supermarket chains are refusing to sell beef that has more than one country of origin on the label.
Farm organisations have been calling on Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to persuade UK supermarkets to start taking mixed-origin beef again, in a bid to ease pressure on cattle farmers. However, a letter from Tesco seen by the Irish Independent makes it clear it has no intention of doing so.
One of Tesco's most senior executives wrote to Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness in recent days, saying that though it was proud to sell beef that was either from Northern Ireland or the Republic, it would not be selling beef from animals raised in both jurisdictions.
"Our research consistently tells us that customers want products that come from simple supply chains that are easy for them to understand, and are clearly labelled," wrote Tesco group commercial director Kevin Grace.
However, Ms McGuinness said Tesco's response was "emphatic and regrettable".
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association general secretary Eddie Punch said Italian consumers had no problem understanding the mixed-origin labels on beef from cattle raised in Ireland and finished in Italy.