NI beef exports to US to restart after 20 years

By Conor Macauley
BBC NI Agriculture & Environment Correspondent

  • Published
BeefImage source, Getty Images

Two Northern Ireland meat plants have been approved to export beef to the United States, opening a market that has been closed for 20 years.

They are Foyle Food Group and WD Meats based in Coleraine.

They are among four UK establishments which have been approved as exporters by US officials following inspection visits last year.

One is in Wales, the other is a cold store - Granville Food Care Limited - based in Dungannon, County Tyrone.

The US market was shut to British beef imports in the mid 1990s after the BSE outbreak - more commonly known as Mad Cow Disease.

The ban was lifted back in March following agreement between the UK and US over equivalence in disease control standards.

The UK government has estimated it could lead to beef sales of £66m over five years.

It is expected the first shipments could start in the coming weeks.

'Lift morale'

Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots said the move was "significant" and he welcomed it "wholeheartedly".

"This has, of course, been a very challenging year for our farmers, with many experiencing significant financial difficulties during the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

"Therefore the decision by the US authorities will be a real boost for our local beef farmers, not just in economic terms, but it will lift the morale of the sector."

The news was also welcomed by the Livestock and Meat Commission's chief executive Ian Stevenson.

"The US is one of the largest consumer markets for beef in the world and, despite the impact of Covid-19 globally, we have seen that exporters in the Republic of Ireland have more than doubled their beef exports to the US in the first six months of 2020 worth over 21m euros," he said.

Conall Donnelly, from the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, said the US market had performed strongly in recent years and being shut out had left local companies at a competitive disadvantage.

He said the resumption of exports would give Northern Ireland firms an "extra option and the chance to build longer-term trading relationships".