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Minister Coughlan outlines another year of strong performance in the Beef Sector

The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Mary Coughlan TD, today outlined another successful year for the Irish beef sector in 2006.

Production at export plants rose by almost 5% to some 550,000 tonnes, the highest level since 2003, with cattle slaughter amounting to 1.7 million head, also the largest figure for a number of years. In tandem with this improved performance the Minister stressed the importance of price. "As well as the availability of markets for our product, the price obtained is, of course, of crucial importance. I am pleased to say that 2006 saw a continuation in the upward trend in prices across all classes and grades, rising, on average, by almost 8% on 2005 and reached their highest levels for many years."

The Minister said that 2006 was a year characterised by further growth and advancement, particularly on export markets. Beef exports rose by some 6% and exceeded half a million tonnes for the first time since 1999. Exports to Continental Europe reached an all-time high of almost 230,000 tonnes. Put in context, the Minister said this is four times the amount exported five years ago. Irish beef is now listed with more multiple retail chains in EU markets than beef of any other national origin. The UK remains our largest single market, with exports amounting to approximately 250,000 tonnes, with almost 40% of our fresh beef exports to the UK sold directly to the leading supermarkets.

Commenting on this result, the Minister said: "More than 90% of Irish beef production ends up on the plate of international consumers. This remarkable performance has helped Ireland become the largest net beef exporter in the northern hemisphere. Furthermore, this outcome did not come about by accident. Exporters have worked extremely hard to achieve this situation and it is a testament to their efforts, together with the work of Bord Bia that we have arrived at this excellent outcome. European consumers are familiar with the quality and competitiveness of Irish beef and they trust our produce. It is this trust which engenders product loyalty and a price premium in good times and bad."

The Minister went on to say that the value of beef exports, at more than €1.5 billion in 2006, represents almost one-fifth of overall food and drink exports. "This provides further evidence of the inherent importance of beef to the Irish economy, while the near €200 million increase over 2005 is clear confirmation of the ability of Irish producers and processors to respond to market demands."

The live export trade also experienced a year of significant growth. Commenting on the 35% increase to almost 250,000 head, the Minister stated that this trade continues to be an important outlet for our cattle, and provides an essential element of competition with the beef trade. "Live exports are a vital market outlet for Irish farmers. If in 2006 Irish farmers were left without the option of selling animals to the continent, then prices achieved during the year would have been down. We have ensured that rigorous controls in place so that animals are transported in a manner that best safeguards their welfare, including a new Animal Transport Regulation introduced just this January."

The European demand for Irish cattle and calves is yet further recognition of the quality and consistency of our animals, and reflects the competitive pricing position of Irish suppliers, she continued.

"We are committed in Government to supporting the live export trade and ensuring maximum price competition in the livestock sector."

The Minister concluded that she was committed to working together with all participants within the industry to ensure that the progress of recent years is consolidated and further built upon. "While the ongoing challenges, which are a feature of a competitive marketplace, will remain, I am confident that Irish producers, processors and those involved in marketing will work together to face down these tests and continue to deliver product of the highest quality, which will be demanded by consumers worldwide."

25 February 2007

Date Released: 25 February 2007