By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Irish beef exports to China have resumed for the first time in two years, which has been welcomed by farmers in Ireland.
Beef shipments to China were suspended after a case of atypical BSE was confirmed in May 2020.
The two types of BSE are classical BSE, which occurs through the consumption of contaminated feed, and atypical BSE, which is believed to occur in all cattle populations at a very low rate and has been identified only in older cattle.
The isolated atypical case was detected by the Department of Agriculture’s surveillance programme and did not enter the food chain.
Beef exports were immediately suspended as a precaution in line with trading arrangements with China.
On Thursday, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State Martin Heydon welcomed the resumption of Irish beef exports to China.
Mr McConalogue said the issue had been a “top priority” 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 (General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China), our officials engaged in further bilateral talks to finalise the restoration of beef access based on scientific principles.
“Ireland’s reputation as an exporter of high-quality beef worldwide hinges on its compliance with stringent animal health and food safety standards.
“As a major food exporter, we are always very conscious of the concerns of our customers. China’s decision to resume Irish beef imports on the same conditions as before represents a clear vote of confidence in the output of our beef sector.”
President of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) Tim Cullinan welcomed the announcement, saying it presented the beef sector with a huge opportunity.
“It is important that eligibility is secured for all Irish beef products and the market opportunity is not restrictive, the protocol must now be worked on to allow beef products from all Irish livestock,” he said.
Mr Heydon, whose responsibilities include market development, said that Irish food agency Bord Bia is to “soon set in motion a programme of promotions” to allow exporters to capitalise on the opportunities coming from this announcement.
Irish beef exports to China, including Hong Kong which operates under different market access rules, were worth 96 million euro in 2019.
“Prior to the suspension, overall Irish beef exports to China were on an upward trajectory and I am confident that we can quickly regain momentum and market share there.
“I want to recognise the role of Ireland’s Ambassador to China, Dr Ann Derwin, the current and previous agricultural attaches, and all the team at the Embassy of Ireland in Beijing for their efforts in presenting at every opportunity a reasoned case on the safety of Irish beef exports.
“I also want to acknowledge the work of Bord Bia Shanghai in communicating the quality and sustainability of Irish beef to key trade customers in China.”