3 July 1998

Brussels is host to NIbeef come-back

NORTHERN Irish beef made its return to Continental plates this week, when the Meat and Livestock Commission hosted a lunch in Brussels for almost 150 trade and government representatives.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, described the first exports for over two years as a watershed for the province and promised to continue pressing for a wider lifting of the ban under the date-based scheme.

But rebuilding a commercial trade would take time and effort, she warned. "We have to be realistic, it is not going to be easy to win back our markets. Weve got a lot of work to do."

That view was echoed by Northern Ireland meat trade representatives attending the re-launch.

"Re-engagement with our former commercial customers will be a protracted process," said LMC chief executive, David Rutledge. "It will be well into the autumn before a significant commercial trade is taking place."

And Derek Shaw, chairman of Granville Meats – the only abattoir group licensed to export beef – confirmed that most of the 50-plus beef animals slaughtered for export had been put back into the domestic trade. Only 1t had actually been exported, made up of fillets and rib eye steaks from 20 certified animals.

With the holiday season approaching, and with the high cost of switching from domestic to export culling, he did not anticipate another shipment until September.

But he remained enthusiastic about the interest being shown by former customers and was still confident the province could reclaim at least half its overseas trade within one year.

Importer of the first shipment, Padrik Vandehague of Belgian wholesaler Good Meat, said he was pleased with the quality of the beef hed bought.

"I always used to be a customer for Scottish beef," he told FW. "So when I heard the ban had been lifted for Northern Ireland, I looked for a supply knowing that the quality was just as good."

The meat in question came from County Londonderry producer Ian Mark who farms at Limavady.

The Charolais cross Aberdeen Angus steers involved were born at around the time the export ban was introduced in 1996 and had been extensively reared on grass.