No stone is being left unturned to get Irish beef back into China, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture Martin Heydon has said. He told the Irish Farmers Journal this week that the Department of Agriculture has done “everything we possibly can” in terms of the Chinese market for beef.

“It’s really frustrating that we haven’t got our access back since that one atypical BSE case back in 2020.

“Ultimately, it’s a decision for the Chinese authorities. In fairness to them, they are currently dealing with huge internal challenges. We’ve answered every question we’ve been asked, and it’s out of our hands now, but no stone is being left unturned.”

Trade offensive

The minister is in the US and Mexico this week on a trade offensive to build on market access for Irish dairy and pork. Ireland was granted market access for pork to Mexico in 2020.

“We gained market access there in 2020. We’ve been hindered by COVID-19 in terms of getting out there and building relationships.

“To gain market access is a huge job of work. My officials will have books the size of telephone registers full of questions and answers and protocols and processes that take years to work through. But gaining the access is not the end of the job; it’s the start of a new phase of work,” he said.

Fewer ties

In markets with fewer ties to Ireland, like Texas and Mexico, the strategy is based on quality, with no element of sentiment, according to the minister.

“You really learn what the consumers want and need when you get boots on the ground. We trade on our pasture-based green systems of production of high-quality, sustainable food. In the long-term, it’s good that there’s no element of paddywhackery.

“Origin Green has been very important, and now Food Vision 2030 with the food systems approach it takes. It delivers on the narrative that the consumer is demanding, in terms of the higher production system, and the higher environmental ambition within. If you look at the success of the Kerrygold brand, it’s built on quality. That will always be the focus.”

Farm safety

Minister Heydon has said it’s not an option for Ireland to go back to having 20 to 25 deaths a year on farms.

“Ten deaths is 10 too many. It’s 10 families and 10 communities that have been devastated by the long-term consequences of a split-second decision. It will take more time to identify if it’s a cultural change, if the increased focus on safety is starting to cut through.

“There could be an element to lockdown where there was more help at home, and also where it was less of a rush to finish work because normal evening and weekend activity like sports and meetings were curtailed.

“I am absolutely determined we will build on this improvement, it would be devastating for us to go back to the previous average figures.”