20 February 1998

Eire protests at Tesco plan to take Irish beef off its shelves

By Anthony Garvey

IRISH farm minister, Joe Walsh, has called in Tesco executives to deliver a stiff protest over the chains decision to remove Irish beef from its shelves in the UK.

The Tesco team spent more than an hour with the minister discussing what he had earlier described in parliament as the "boardroom blockade" of Irish beef in Britain.

The ban, which is to be raised with the EU Commission and UK farm minister, Jack Cunningham, "is simply not on in the context of free trade between EU member states", the minister said.

The Tesco executives were left in no doubt about the anger felt over their UK advertising, proclaiming that the chain has a pro-British beef policy and "will not profiteer by buying cheap Irish beef".

One of the ministers officials described the advert as outrageous and said the chain should remember that it needed Irish goodwill for the success of its recent move into the Republics retail market.

As a result of the Dublin meeting, there will be "no more negative advertising" by Tesco, said a department of agriculture spokesman. The firm also ran full-page adverts in the Irish national papers at the weekend declaring its commitment to Irish beef.

Mr Walsh denounced as reprehensible some of the campaigns by UK stores that singled out Irish beef. The Irish industry, he said, had "a traditional and orderly outlet" for its product in the UK, and supplied £200m worth of beef a year. The loss of such a substantial market share would have serious repercussions for Irish farmers and the Irish economy.

The minister said he was doing all he could at "political, commercial and promotional level" to have Irish beef sales restored in UK supermarkets. He had directed Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, to intensify its contacts with the big chains.

Meanwhile, according to a spokesman for the Irish Farmers Association, Brussels has indicated that the Meat and Livestock Commissions £2m "Buy British" campaign does not contravene EU single market rules because it is being funded by producer levies and not by government. &#42