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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 09:02 GMT 10:02 UK
NI farmers welcome beef move
Cattle
NI beef exports may resume after six years
Northern Ireland farmers have given a cautious welcome to the news that local beef could be back on the menu in many European countries as soon as September.

It is due to an EU decision to ease export restrictions - put in place during the BSE crisis - on beef from Northern Ireland.

However, Clark Black of the Ulster Farmers' Union said members did not want to raise their expectations just yet.


The Meat Exporters' Association says the move is a boost to the industry and chairman Colin Duffy said shipments might resume by September

Martin Cassidy
Rural affairs correspondent

"Since beef exports were halted in 1996, there have been many raised expectations which unfortunately have been followed by disappointments," he said.

"The rules that governed those exports proved to be so restrictive."

Export markets

The road back to export markets has been long and tortuous but the decision by the EU's food chain committee finally signals an end to years of trade isolation and lost marketing opportunities.

Northern Ireland processors used to ship meat to about 50 countries with annual sales of more than 200m, but the world-wide export ban in March 1996 brought the wheels of the industry to a halt.

The key difference in the new date-based scheme is that it allows abattoirs to supply both domestic and export markets.

The Meat Exporters' Association said the old rule insisting that meat plants dedicated their output to either domestic or export markets was unworkable, not least because fewer than half the cattle on local farms had been eligible for the export scheme.


The Ulster Farmers' Union has also welcomed the announcement after what it describes as six very difficult years for beef producers

Martin Cassidy
Rural affairs correspondent

BBC NI rural affairs correspondent Martin Cassidy said: "Export orders are often for certain cuts of meat and to export profitably, processors need to be able to sell the rest of the carcase with the market in Britain frequently the best outlet.

"The rule change by the food chain committee now allows processing companies to dedicate a proportion of their time to processing meat for export markets while keeping valuable contracts supplying beef to supermarkets, wholesalers and caterers in Britain.

"The Meat Exporters' Association says the move is a boost to the industry and chairman Colin Duffy said shipments might resume by September."

He said a prime order which the local industry would be hoping to regain was supplying the Albert Heijn supermarket group in the Netherlands.

Ill fated

"Northern Ireland beef used to command premium prices in the Dutch market and such was the size of the order that six companies were shipping beef to Heijn shops.

"The Ulster Farmers' Union has also welcomed the announcement after what it describes as six very difficult years for beef producers.

"An earlier, and ultimately short-lived, return to export markets has not been forgotten though and the UFU points out that the history of the beef trade since1996 has been littered with raised expectations and bitter disappointment."

The ill-fated export certified herd scheme brought a brief respite from the BSE ban in the spring of 1999, only for errors in cattle identification resulting in the beef from 19 animals which were ineligible for export, being shipped.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Clark Black of the Ulster Farmers' Union:
"Members do not want to raise their expectations just yet"

CJD

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See also:

17 Jul 02 | N Ireland
25 May 99 | Politics
18 Jan 01 | N Ireland
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