Rise in beef exports expected next year
Unlike Wales, which last week registered its entire beef output as "Welsh beef", Ireland cannot register "Irish beef" because it is a sovereign state.
We could, however, register "Connemara lamb" or "Leinster pork", said Mr Michael Duffy, who heads the Irish Food Bord, An Bord Bia, this week.
An EU scheme has been encouraging food producers to register foods by geographic origin.
Mr Duffy continued: "Because Scotland and Wales are regions, they can take advantage of the EU scheme which is compiling a list of regional foods to protect them in the international markets.
"However, while you can register something like Parma ham or champagne, we cannot do it with our beef."
Mr Duffy, who will early next year announce a 7 per cent increase in Irish exports in 2002, driven by higher beef exports, estimated that it would cost at least €10 million to brand-market Irish beef in Britain.
He said he expected that by the end of the year, 245,000 tonnes of Irish beef will have been exported to Britain, a market which traditionally took in the region of 100,000 tonnes annually.
The demand for beef came from the severe damage caused to the local beef industry by BSE and, in 2001, foot-and-mouth disease.
Mr Duffy said the market was targeted for further growth in exports in 2003, saying he hoped an extra 10,000 tonnes could be exported to Britain.
He said other markets had performed well too, including the Netherlands, which had taken 30,000 tonnes of Irish beef this year, and Italy, which had imported 22,000 tonnes. He said Russia was our largest non-EU market.
However, he warned of increasing challenges to beef markets, particularly from Latin America.
"They are allowed 400,000 tonnes of concessionary beef imports into the EU and they put in prime cuts. What most people do not realise is that this year they have put in an extra 40,000 tonnes, paying the full tariffs because the market is so important to them," he said.
He said the greatest challenge to the sector came from Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Brazil, he said, exported 900,000 tonnes of beef this year.
"The export environment for beef remains quite difficult. For instance, in 1995 Ireland was servicing 21 markets of over 5,000 tonnes. In 2001, we had six markets over 5,000 tonnes," he said.
However, he said, Ireland's grass-based economy and its tradition of producing good, wholesome food under the concept of "Ireland the Food Island", still held.
There had been tremendous growth in prepared consumer goods and Irish exporters were clued in to the needs of the increasingly demanding retail sector.
There was also a growing awareness of the importance of the home market as Ireland's population continued to grow and food demands became more sophisticated.
One of the great successes of the year, he said, was the growth in the Féile Bia scheme, under which restaurants and hotels pledge to serve locally produced food.
The total output from the food and drinks sector in Ireland now stands at €14 billion, he said.