THERE has been a general welcome for Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s announcement this week that Ireland has become the first EU member state to secure beef access to the US market. The news follows a successful inspection by the US authorities of Ireland’s beef production systems in July of last year.
However, a note of caution was sounded by ICSA president Patrick Kent as he gave a guarded welcome to the news: ‘There still remains a concern as to the negative impacts from a potential quid pro quo under the TTIP negotiations’.
He acknowledged that ‘this could be a very important development for hard-pressed beef farmers, provided that the meat industry and Bord Bia market Irish beef as a premium product with a view to improving returns to farmers.
‘However, farmers will remain sceptical given the ruthless downward manipulation of prices by the meat industry over the past twelve months. They are still waiting to see concrete benefits from previous announcements of new markets,’ he pointed out.
Minister Coveney was, naturally, more upbeat, saying: ‘I am delighted with this confirmation that the US market is now open to Irish beef. This is the culmination of two years of intensive work between my department and our US counterparts to prove our credentials as a supplier of highest-quality premium beef. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my US counterpart, Secretary of State Tom Vilsack, with whom I’ve worked very closely on this issue to bring it to this stage’.
Beef from the EU has been banned from the US since it imposed its ban for BSE reasons over fifteen years ago and this ban was only formally lifted in March, 2014. Ireland had been consistently calling for the US to lift its ban, citing the high demand for Irish beef around the world as proof of its quality and reliability.
The minister commented ‘this announcement by the US is a huge endorsement of Irish beef and our production and regulatory systems. It complements the other market access outlets we have secured in the last two years all of which are a key element of our Food Harvest 2020 strategy to expand the overseas opportunity for Irish beef. It’s clear that diversifying our international beef markets as an exporting country is key to the long-term sustainability of our beef sector’.
This US decision clears the way for the Irish authorities to approve individual beef plants here to export to the US – approval for which will be based on agreed criteria with their US counterparts..
Mr Coveney added that ‘this US market is a huge prize given the size of the market and the demand we know exists there for premium grass-fed beef. We now have first-mover advantage as a result of being the first EU member state to gain entry.
‘There is also the large Irish-American community which will be a key target of our promotional efforts for Irish beef now,’ he concluded: ‘This announcement marks a fantastic start to 2015 for the Irish beef sector’.
The announcement has also been welcomed by West Cork Labour TD Michael McCarthy, saying it offers ‘enormous potential for Irish producers and is a vote of confidence in the Irish excellence and safety standards. Ireland is synonymous with the production of environmentally-sustainable and welfare-friendly products.
‘With one in eight jobs in the economy already linked to agri-food, this is a very important development which will hopefully result in local job creation’.