Another Irish beef processor has been granted a US export licence amid reports of a disappointingly low level of trade so far.
The Dawn Meats processing facility at Charleville in Co Cork has become the third Irish plant to regain access to the lucrative US market following the lifting of the ban on Irish beef imports earlier this year.
The Waterford-based group, which exports meat products to more than 40 countries, told The Irish Times it was "actively pursuing a number of opportunities in the US market".
The Department of Agriculture said it was also working with others to gain re-entry into the US, with Meath-based group Kepak said to be next in line.
Ireland became the first EU state to be granted access to the US beef market earlier this year following the lifting of a 15-year trade embargo stemming back to the BSE crisis of the 1990s.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney believes the US market could take up to 20,000 tonnes of Irish beef, worth €100 million, in 2015 and significantly more in subsequent years.
US export figures
The department said that figures on the volume of exports to the US would not be available until later this year. However, industry sources say the expected pick-up in trade with the US has so far failed to materialise with only a low volume of beef being shipped across the Atlantic.
Larry Goodman's ABP Foods, which is supplying beef to US food distributor Sysco, said: "It takes time to introduce customers to the unique qualities and tenderness of ABP beef in any international market and the US is no different."
"Overall, export volumes will remain relatively low until brand awareness has been built and Irish beef is approved for grinding in the USA," a spokesman said, noting that the company is now supplying 20 Sysco outlets in the New York and Boston areas.
Irish beef exporters are attempting to tap into the growing US market for grass-fed, hormone-free beef, which the industry here has a reputation for.
However, many believe exports to the US are unlikely to take off until the current licensing arrangement with the US is extended to include mince, known in the trade as manufactured beef, which accounts for the lion’s share of the US market.
The department is trying to secure an extension of the current licensing arrangement but it appears hygiene protocols surrounding the production of mince still need to be bridged.
The US authorities are understood to be insisting on additional tests for E. coli before allowing access to Irish mince.
Ireland has also been granted access to the Chinese market, which is expected to be a bigger market for Irish beef.
"For China, the department is engaged in an intensive process with the Chinese authorities to complete the stages before trade can commence," a department spokesman said.
Mr Coveney is expected to lead a trade mission to China later this year to mark the resumption of Irish beef exports there.