As the Deputy is aware, the free movement of goods and services within the Single Market means that no specific agreement on live cattle exports is required with other member states. My Department attaches considerable importance to the live export trade and, over the years, has been very active in facilitating shipments abroad. Live exports serve a dual purpose as a means of satisfying legitimate market demands for live animals and providing alternative market outlets for farmers. Total live exports to date this year are 140,000 head of which 24,000 went to the UK , an increase of some 3,370 head or 16% up on the comparable period in 2013. Of this 24,000, some 17,000 went to Northern Ireland which is an increase of 10% on the same period in 2013.
However, the potential to grow the live trade to the UK even further is constrained by the buying specifications operated by the British retail chains in relation to cattle born in this country and exported live for finishing and processing in that market. The retailers’ longstanding policy is to market British and Irish beef separately. This means that beef must be sourced from animals originating in one country; i.e. born, reared and slaughtered in the same country. In addition, logistical difficulties arise when a small number of Irish-born animals are slaughtered in a UK meat plant. Under mandatory EU labelling rules, these carcases have to be deboned in a separate batch, packaged and labelled accordingly, thereby incurring additional costs for the processor.
While Bord Bia has repeatedly raised this issue with British retailers over the years, they are unlikely to reverse their marketing policy in the short term. Nevertheless Bord Bia, in its ongoing interactions with British customers, will continue to pursue all opportunities to maximise the full potential of the beef and livestock trade with our largest trading partner. In addition Bord Bia actively supports the development of the live export trade through the provision of market information, developing market access and promotional activity. I will continue to engage with my Northern counterpart, Ms Michelle O’Neill, on issues relevant to producers including cross-border trade.
Arising from the two roundtable discussions with key stakeholders which I hosted on 17 April and 3 June, I announced a number of measures to address the challenges currently facing the overall beef sector, including the allocation by Bord Bia of €0.5m to intensify its marketing of Irish beef in the UK, Netherlands and Germany and I understand the bulk of this money will be spent between now and the peak autumn cattle supply period. An additional €85,000 will go towards the UK market, bringing Bord Bia’s total spend for marketing Irish beef in the UK to €0.4 million. The additional expenditure will contribute towards an online promotion on well-known food websites, as well as profiling Irish beef through recipes and competitions. A manufacturing category study is also being carried out to reaffirm the position of Irish beef alongside British beef as an ingredient in value-added ready meals.
The main focus of the roundtable was a report I requested from Michael Dowling regarding the implementation of the Beef Activation Group and consideration of any additional actions required. The report was compiled following intensive consultation with the various stakeholders in the last few weeks and has been published on the Department’s website to allow interested parties to reflect on the recommendations.