Dáil Éireann - Volume 580 - 18 February, 2004
Written Answers. - Beef Industry.
Mr. Hogan Mr. Hogan
132. Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when he last held a meeting under the so called beef summit; the discussions he had and the agreements reached; when the group will meet again; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4855/04]
Mr. Walsh Mr. Walsh
Mr. Walsh: When I convened a meeting of  representatives of the main farming organisations and beef industry chief executives in December 2002, I did so against a backdrop of ongoing disputes between producers and processors which were damaging to the growth and development of the beef sector. The main purpose of the meeting was to enable an exchange of views on the issues that needed to be addressed to ensure that Irish beef achieves maximum export market penetration.
A number of significant outcomes were agreed. These included the acceptance that margins would have to be available for all involved, both at production and processing level. It was further agreed that the future market strategy would involve Irish beef moving up the value chain within the EU and gaining a greater spread of markets generally. It was also agreed that every market open to Irish beef should be availed of, in particular Egypt. There was general agreement that quality of product must be encouraged and that the Department would drive the introduction of mechanical classification.
Since then the beef trade has been performing extremely well. Last year the value of meat and livestock exports increased by 5% to just under €2 billion, largely due to the strong performance by beef and live animal exports. Irish beef exports increased in value by over 7% to €1.3 billion and the volume of beef exports increased by 9%. Almost 85% of exports went to countries in the EU, which compares to 50% in 2000. Exports to the UK showed further growth to reach 265,000 tonnes and was achieved despite a strengthening of the euro against sterling. One third of these exports went to multiple retailers, reflecting the higher value end of the market. The most significant development was the increase of 30% in the exports of beef to continental EU markets, reaching some 150,000 tonnes. As the EU remains a deficit beef producer, this market will provide continued growth opportunities for Irish beef exports.
While the volume of trade with third country markets was marginally lower, at 85,000 tonnes last year, this was off-set by better returns from sales to UK and continental EU markets. Irish beef was exported to Egypt for the first time since 1999, assisted by the special export refund I secured from the Commission. The live trade has also improved considerably in the last year compared to 2002, with an increase of 48% in the number of animals exported.
In the period since the meeting of the beef forum, cattle prices across all categories have improved considerably, with steer prices up by 9%, heifers by almost 4% and cows by one third. Huge progress has been made in regard to the introduction of mechanical grading. The legal basis for this has been put in place at EU and national level, machines have been put through the required trial and as of now three machines have been formally approved for use in Irish conditions. Last week I announced a scheme of  grant assistance towards the purchase and installation of classification machines and I am confident that the new systems will be in operation in a large number of factories in the coming months.
As to the future, the market outlook for 2004 is very positive due to the combination of low EU production and strong consumer demand across the EU. The main growth is forecast in continental EU markets, notably France and Italy.
Overall, I am satisfied that the issues identified and the actions promised have been delivered, although should the circumstance so warrant I would not hesitate to convene another meeting of the main players in the beef industry. I would add that meetings are held at regular intervals with the various representative groups on current issues. The sector is also represented on the agri vision 2015 group.
Dáil Éireann 580 Written Answers. Beef Industry.