27 February 1998


&#8226 A HIGH-powered team, led by Irish farm minister Joe Walsh, met UK supermarket bosses in London earlier this week to urge them to stop boycotting Irish beef.

The team, which included Philip Lynch chairman of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, had meetings with senior executives of the Tesco, Sainsbury and Safeway chains.

It was the second visit by Irish officials in just over a week – the earlier one was with the Meat and Livestock Commission – and underlined the concern felt by the government and the industry over the removal of Irish beef, worth about £3m a week, from UK supermarket shelves.

The multiple retailers previously marketed about 40% of the £200m-worth of Irish beef sold in the UK. But, as a result of the MLCs British meat promotion, only Sainsbury is still sourcing any supplies from the Irish Republic, and the impact on producer prices is already being felt.

According to the Irish Farmers Association, heifer prices have dipped by 6% over the past 10 days. "Were advising producers to hold on to their animals if its at all possible," a spokesman said. "But thats very much a short-term option."

According to meat processors there is virtually no Irish beef going to the British market at the moment.

The IFA spokesman said: "When a product is off the shelves for a while and people stop buying it, you have a hell of a marketing job just to get back to where you were. Thats our big fear about the present situation, that well be kept out for so long well lose our place in the market."

Meanwhile, amid rumblings of a backlash against Tescos 72 stores in Ireland, the firms Irish managing director, Maurice Pratt, apologised for Tescos decision to axe Irish beef from its UK stores. He described the move as "wrong" and said the parent company in the UK had made a "mistake" by advertising that it operated a British beef policy and would not buy the "cheaper" Irish product.

Mr Pratt predicted that Tescos UK outlets would buy more Irish beef this year than last year and said the chain had recently awarded a £5m contract to Dairygold to supply fresh Irish steaks to the UK market under the Galtee brand. The contract would begin in May.

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