Lactic Acid Preventing Irish Manufactured Beef Exports to the US

IRELAND - Figures released by the Department of Agriculture indicate that just under 700t of Irish beef valued at €6 million were exported to the US in the first quarter of this year, writes Eoin McCarthy.
calendar icon 15 April 2016
clock icon 3 minute read

In 2015 Ireland exported 1,300t of beef valued at €8.5m to the US, according to figures released by the Department of Agriculture.

To date a total of 2,000t of beef valued at €14.5m has been exported to America after US authorities lifted their ban on European beef, following the BSE crisis of the late 1990s.

In February 2015, Irish beef was officially launched into the US market by Bord Bia and outgoing Minister of Agriculture Simon Coveney. Several trade events were held in Washington, New York and Boston where leading chefs, food service companies and suppliers into high end restaurants and hotels were invited.

These figures are well short of what outgoing Minister of Agriculture Simon Coveney had initially predicted that up to 20,000 tonnes of Irish beef worth between €50 - €100 million would be exported to the US in 2015.

The Department of Agriculture claims that this is a very strong start to the trade considering that exports are limited to intact cuts for the present and some of the exporting plants only secured access in the second half of last year.

Ireland is currently restricted to exporting high-value steak cuts, such as fillet, rib-eye and sirloin to the US, which represent a small portion of their import market.

Irish meat processors have yet to gain access to the lucrative mince market, known in the trade as manufacturing beef.

Hygiene protocols form an obstacle

It is understood that different hygiene protocols between the authorities on both sides of the Atlantic connected with the processing of manufactured beef still need to be finalise before the licence can be widened.

US authorities are understood to be insisting on additional tests for E. coli before allowing imports of Irish mince.

The obstacle in relation to the importation of manufactured beef related to the fact that in US abattoirs it is normal procedure to spray lactic acid on meat carcasses to control the risk of contamination from bacterial pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli that might get on to the carcass during the slaughtering process.

Whereas for many years the EU only allowed drinking water to disinfect meat carcasses. It was only three years ago after an official request from the United States, that the EU introduced legislation which allows for the application of lactic acid as a pathogen reduction treatment (PRT) on beef carcasses, half-carcasses and beef quarters in the slaughterhouse.

However, Joe Burke, a beef specialist with Bord Bia, said the use of lactic acid in Irish meat plants would not meet the conditions of our customers and if Irish meat processors were to start using lactic acid they would have to list it as an ingredient within the beef.

“While in the US it is commonplace, it’s part of their procedure, it’s part of their practice and they don’t need to list is as an ingredient or as an additive or an enhancer of any kind, whereas here in Europe anything that is put into the process during its manufacture will then have to be listed as an additive ingredient, so that wouldn’t be agreeable to the customers,” Mr Burke added.

Irish beef exports are not solely restricted to high-value steak cuts, such as fillet, rib-eye and sirloin. Fore quarter cuts or round cuts have also become popular as “they are used in the preparation of beef dishes like Mexican fajitas and other different receipts,” Mr Burke added.

To allow the importation of manufactured beef into the US market there has to be substantial negotiations, discussions and testing between authorities on both sides of the Atlantic to prove that preventative measures in Irish meat plants adheres to the highest standards possible especially in relation to hygiene.

The Department of Agriculture has confirmed that Ireland has submitted a detailed technical file, which is still being considered by USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). It is thought that a decision is imminent.

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