The beef industry: A lot done. More to do
Close to the bone: the horse-meat crisis is a chance for Ireland to introduce a full DNA database of slaughtered animals. stock photograph: paul mcerlane/reuters
Standards are higher and traceability has improved since the beef tribunal of the early 1990s, but the industry’s reputation is just as low
In the early 1980s I spent a summer working at an abattoir just north of Ballymun, in Dublin, owned by the Goodman group. The work mostly involved pushing halves of recently slaughtered, skinned and eviscerated cattle along corridors as they hung from rails on the ceiling.
It was well-paid but unsettling work. The men in the slaughtering hall, holding sharp knives and covered in blood, would often strike up a chant as they worked. A live beast entering at one end of the line would be converted into a skinned and halved carcass in just a few minutes.
It is rare for an ordinary consumer to experience the meat trade, or any point of the food chain, at such close quarters. But in these past few weeks the still-unfolding scandal about the use of horse meat in what are meant to be beef burgers has forced us all to think about the meat trade and what we eat.
It has also hurt the reputation of one of Ireland’s most successful indigenous industries, and one of the major players in that industry: Larry Goodman’s ABP Group.
Ireland produces about 500,000 tonnes of beef a year and is the fourth-largest exporter of beef in the world. About half of Irish beef is exported to the UK. The EU as a whole consumes more beef than it produces, and demand for beef around the globe has been growing in recent years, largely because of rising demand in such places as China and Brazil.
That means the so-called “fifth quarter” of a beast – the offal and skin that does not form part of the two fore- and two hind-quarters into which slaughtered beasts are cut – has become more valuable, and other parts of the animal’s body, such as the head, are now kept and sold.
Readers who were around at the time of the beef tribunal in the early 1990s will recall that the markets for Irish beef then were places such as Russia, Libya and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, not to mention EU intervention.
That situation has been transformed, with Ireland now at the forefront of supplying quality chilled beef to top retailers in the UK and farther afield in Europe. This has hugely increased the value of the beef sector, and Goodman’s ABP Group has been at the coalface during this transformation.
Goodman and sons
Goodman, who is now 75, is still very much involved in the business. He is executive chairman of a group that has a turnover of €2.5 billion a year and employs 8,000 people, 2,500 of them in the Republic. His sons, Laurence (31) and Mark (29), work alongside him at the group.
ABP has multiple blue-chip customers, including Sainsbury’s in the UK and Superquinn and Tesco in Ireland, for the high-quality chilled meats it produces, which account for 96 per cent or more of the ABP turnover. ABP accounts for about 25 per cent of the 1.5 million cattle killed in the Republic each year (followed by Dawn, at 20 per cent, and Kepak, at 15 per cent).