FARMERS must see a dividend after the resumption of beef exports to China, according to stakeholder groups.
Beef shipments to China were suspended following the confirmation in May 2020 by the Department of Agriculture, of an isolated case of atypical BSE.
This isolated case was detected by the Department’s surveillance programme, did not enter the food chain and posed no risk to human health. Atypical BSE occurs naturally and sporadically in all cattle populations at a very low rate and is not considered a public health risk.
Nevertheless, beef exports were immediately suspended as a precautionary measure in line with the bilateral protocol on the trade agreed with the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC).
Announcing the resumption last week Minister Charlie McConalogue said that negotiating the resumption of beef access had been a top priority for his department over the last two and a half years.
‘Together with colleagues in the Embassy of Ireland in Beijing, my officials have been in ongoing contact with the Chinese authorities since the start of the suspension. They provided the necessary technical information for evaluation by Chinese experts. Earlier this year, as a result of my communication with my counterpart in charge of GACC, our officials engaged in further bilateral talks to finalise the restoration of beef access based on scientific principles,’ he said.
However, welcoming the move, ICSA beef chair Edmund Graham said it would be of no use if it did not result in a price rise.
‘Beef farmers are enduring a long, hard, and expensive winter and the current price of beef is simply nowhere near good enough to cover our increased cost of production. Beef price needs to go to a base price of a least €6.00/kg in the short term to cover the costs of this winter,’ he said.
‘There can be no doubt that the reopening of this market should allow for better prices because meat factories will have more options. They will therefore be in a stronger position to negotiate with EU supermarkets, and this opportunity must be used to drive a better price for farmers.’
President of ICMSA, Pat McCormack, said much credit was due to Minister McConalogue and his officials for their perseverance to get Chinese markets reopened, and he said that development and growth of food exports to China must be a priority.
‘The only question is whether this huge opportunity would translate back into a return for the people actually producing the beef: the farmers,’ he said.
‘We have been here far too often, where a new market is announced or a re-opening of temporarily closed market is confirmed, without any underlying effect or message for the people who will be doing the work and producing the food that will be exported to that market. If the reopening of the Chinese market to Irish beef doesn’t mean an increase in cents per kg for the Irish farmers producing the Irish beef, then it’s actually meaningless; it just becomes an empty marketing exercise.’