Meat & Livestock News

Irish Beef Exports to China Halted: A Setback for the Agricultural Sector

Close-up of meat in display at supermarket

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has expressed disappointment over the recent suspension of Irish beef exports to China, a decision prompted by the discovery of an atypical case of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy).

The Tánaiste, currently on an official visit to China, stressed that the swift identification of the case through routine checks by the Department of Agriculture showcases Ireland’s commitment to stringent health standards.

The suspension is a precautionary response, following protocols that mandate a voluntary halt in trade after such a discovery. Martin assured that the affected cow, aged 10 and a half years, had not entered the food chain.

An epidemiological assessment is to be conducted by the General Administration of Customs of China (GACC), with Martin expressing confidence that the suspension could be lifted within months, given Ireland’s proactive handling of the situation.

Irish beef had only recently returned to Chinese markets earlier this year after a three-year hiatus due to a previous BSE case. The 2019 exports to China were valued at nearly €40 million, and efforts were underway to recapture market share amidst stiff competition from countries like Brazil.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue clarified that the cow in question was not destined for the Chinese market and that atypical BSE occurrences are sporadic and do not pose a food safety risk.

He highlighted Ireland’s world-class testing standards and its lowest risk rating from the World Organisation for Animal Health. The minister pointed out that China is one of over 70 countries Ireland exports to, and the current issue affects only the Chinese protocol.

McConalogue also emphasised the importance of food safety in Ireland, where 90% of food produced is exported. He hopes the matter will be resolved in months, a significant improvement over the years it took to reopen the market after the 2020 incident.

The Irish Farming Association’s livestock committee chair, Brendan Golden, has urged for political pressure to expedite the resolution of the export halt.

He noted the timing is particularly challenging for farmers already grappling with high costs. Golden remains hopeful for a quicker resolution than in 2020, underscoring the importance of the Chinese market, which had been showing signs of sustainable growth before the suspension.

Golden also pointed out that the detection of the BSE case underscores the effectiveness of Ireland’s cattle surveillance systems. He assured that the strain found poses no risk to human or public health.

The incident has been acknowledged by industry representatives as evidence of the robustness of Ireland’s inspection systems. Meat Industry Ireland emphasised the priority of reopening the beef export market to China.

Despite the suspension, beef shipments to China were significant in 2019, and the market potential remains high, with China’s beef consumption growing rapidly.

Hong Kong, which operates under different market access rules, is not affected by the current suspension, with exports to the region continuing.

This development comes as Ireland continues to recognise the Chinese market’s critical role in the growth of its food sector, with the potential to significantly enhance trade value and support the sustainability of the family farm model.