Wednesday 24 July 2019

'This wasn't Ireland making the decision' - Marco Pierre White skewers South American beef import deal

Marco Pierre White has questioned the wisdom of Brussels making decisions affecting Irish farmers. Picture By David Conachy
Marco Pierre White has questioned the wisdom of Brussels making decisions affecting Irish farmers. Picture By David Conachy
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

His name is synonymous with the perfect steak, so it's no wonder Marco Pierre White has questioned Europe's controversial decision to strike a beef deal with the Mercosur bloc that it is feared could be hugely harmful to Irish beef farmers.

The outspoken chef has queried if and for how long South American beef will be vacuum-packed and "swimming in its own blood" while it is shipped across the world.

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He also said the deal between the EU and the countries of Mercosur - Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay - spells trouble for European unity.

"This wasn't Ireland making the decision, this decision was made through Europe and Ireland can't say 'no' because they are part of the EU.

"So this is where the problem begins. You've got people in Brussels making decisions for the people in Ireland and not taking into consideration the Irish farmers, which I have a problem with. The reality is it's Brussels making a decision for Ireland and I think that is why in the end Europe will implode."

The chef, who owns a steakhouse on Dublin's Dawson Street, believes questions need to be asked about the processing and transportation of the Mercosur bloc beef before the deal is signed off.

"Irish beef is within the premiership league of the finest beef of the world. Argentinian beef is very good, too. It's up there. It's like the premiership, you've got the best teams in the same top echelon," he said.

But he asked if the Mercosur beef would arrive on the bone. "And will it arrive vacuum-packed? Because once you vacuum-pack beef and then put it on a ship for up to three weeks, then you start to damage it.

"By shipping it in a bag it's cheaper but when you open them the smell is appalling. But you can't expect politicians to understand this because even if they are ministers for food, they mightn't have spent much time with food."

He added that Irish beef would be more suitable to transport to Europe: "Irish dry-aged beef will be on the bone because it only takes two or three days to go to Europe, max." He said we needed to know how long it will be between when the Mercosur beef is butchered and the time it lands in Europe.

Asked if he would introduce Mercosur bloc beef into his restaurants, he said: "Personally, I wouldn't buy it. We use Peter Hannan from Belfast. His beef is extraordinary; it's the best I have ever eaten."

Ireland is the fifth largest beef exporter in the world and the largest in Europe. And 90pc of Irish beef is exported - a €3bn business in annual revenues.

The possibility of a South American steak selling in a French supermarket at 50pc less than the Irish equivalent was becoming a reality, but Mr White said he believed people would still go for quality.

"Irish farmers will still sell Irish beef, there will still be a demand because it's that good. We need to support the Irish farmers."

He had this advice on choosing a steak: "Personally, I would never choose a steak that's less than €20 on a restaurant menu because at that price you know the quality you're getting."

Meanwhile, beef production is one of the leading causes of tropical deforestation; responsible for as much as 65pc of rainforest destruction this century.

The IFA believes the deal turns a blind eye to the double standards in Brazil where an area up to the size of two football pitches are disappearing every hour.

Sunday Independent

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