Meat accounts for over 40% of Ireland’s gross agricultural output, dominated by beef, followed by pigmeat and sheepmeat. Ireland’s meat and livestock exports account for one third of all food and drink exports. As Ireland’s beef herd is predominantly raised on fresh pasturelands under strong quality assurance, traceability and food safety systems, it is increasingly serving the needs of higher-value and premium retail and food service clients in Europe and around the world.
Beef is, by far, the biggest category within the meat sector, accounting for 21% of food and drink exports from Ireland. Ireland is the fifth largest beef exporter in the world and the largest exporter of beef in Europe. Total beef production in Ireland stands at approximately 520,000 tonnes, with around 470,000 tonnes destined for export.
Ireland’s beef is reared on a grass-fed diet, with a 1.1 million beef suckler cow herd kept on just under 80,000 farms. Beef cattle for the export market are slaughtered at one of around 30 approved export meat plants.
Pig production ranks third in importance behind beef and dairy in terms of economic value at the farm gate in Ireland. Most of this product is destined for the Russian and Chinese markets. There are an estimated 290 commercial sow herds in Ireland and at mid-2013 there were 1.55 million pigs in Ireland – 147,500 breeding sows and 1.4 million finishing stock – with an average herd size of 508.
Irish sheep throughput has experienced several years of consecutive growth. Over 60% of produce is exported, with the UK and France our key markets. Growth has also been seen in export markets including Belgium, Germany and Sweden. Sweden is now our third most important market destination for Irish lamb exports.
Emerging international markets continued to grow with Hong Kong being the primary destination of Irish sheep meat exports.
Ireland is the highest consumer of poultry meat in the EU. The Irish poultry industry is divided into two separate sections – poultry meat and egg production. Each year in Ireland, approximately 70 million chickens and four million turkeys are produced, while two million hens lay eggs. Each sector can be either highly intensive, free range or organic.
Quality assurance schemes are in place for poultry and egg production and the quality assured logo is clearly evident on Irish chicken produced on farms participating in the scheme.
Bord Bia, which promotes Irish food and drinks products in export markets, also runs a highly successful Quality Assurance Scheme. This is an integrated auditing process that involves producer and processing plant working in partnership to provide customers with quality-assured product.
Close to 90% of Irish beef and lamb production comes from the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme. Currently over 40,000 farmers and over 150 food processors and packers are members.
End of Chinese Ban on Irish Beef
Earlier this year Taoiseach Enda Kenny formally announced the lifting of the Chinese ban on Irish beef. Ireland is to date the only EU member state permitted to export to the United States and China.