7 April 2000

Added value is urgent goal for

beef industry

By Philip Clarke

THE days of selling beef as a generic product are numbered. With top quality cuts fetching almost £10/lb in Brussels, the challenge is to produce a consistent, attractively presented and professionally marketed product, according to EU consumer affairs commissioner David Byrne.

For too long, the industry had relied on intervention, paying scant attention to marketing, he told last weeks Irish Department of Agriculture centenary conference in Dublin Castle. "Intervention was a compliant consumer, who asked few questions and paid without complaint," he said.

But reality was catching up and Ireland had to adapt. Consumers wanted safety, quality, low price and innovation. "If the industry does not produce this, there will be nowhere to hide."

Mandatory beef labelling was also on the way, with retail tickets soon to show where the animal was born, reared and slaughtered. "Further details may also be possible, such as the breed of cattle, method of rearing and period of maturation," said Mr Byrne.

This trend towards renationalisation was of major concern to Irish Farmers Association livestock chairman Derek Deane. Irish beef had struggled in recent years in overseas markets where home-produced beef was strongly branded. He wanted a Euro-beef brand.

But Mr Byrne believed these fears were overdone. "In the wake of the BSE crisis, it was hardly surprising consumers turned to the product they knew best – their own. But they will return to their normal habits, putting quality and value for money ahead of place of origin."

Given Irelands structural dependence on beef – 90% of all production is exported – the aim should be to sell to added value markets within Europe.

This view was endorsed by EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler. Over-dependence on Third country outlets was part of the reason Irish cattle prices were 20% below the EU average, he said. It also made the industry vulnerable as the scope for the EU to help out with export subsidies was also restricted. &#42