From poor relations to global

From poor relations to global

Over the last seven decades the Irish beef industry has grown to become a global player. Annual sales of more than 550,000 tonnes mean that Ireland remains the biggest net exporter of beef in the Northern Hemisphere, outstripping the US, Canada and Mexico.

Meanwhile, Irish-owned companies such as ABP, Dawn Meats and Kepak are ranked among Europe's leading meat businesses. In short, Ireland punches well above its weight in the world's beef stakes.  But it wasn't always so. Up to the late 1950s Ireland's beef industry was dwarfed by the live export of cattle. Although 500,000 head were shipped on the hoof to Britain and beyond in 1950, just 35,000 head, or 7pc of available animals, were slaughtered and processed for export. However, things were about to change radically. By 1954 close to one-third of all cattle exports were shipped as beef, and the 40pc barrier was broken by 1960. The growth in tonnage terms was equally impressive, with exports of processed and canned beef topping 50,000 tonnes by 1960 - an eight-fold increase from the 6,500 tonnes shipped in 1950.

In essence, the 1950s marked the genesis of the country's modern beef industry, and its expansion and development helped to transform Irish farming. Local abattoirs had traditionally slaughtered around 200,000 cattle each year for domestic consumption, but largescale exports of beef were a totally new phenomenon. 

The growth in exports was driven by guaranteed access to the British market under the 1948 trade agreement between the two countries, and increased demand for beef in continental European states such as Sweden, Holland and Germany.

The opening of the US market for Irish beef - along with lucrative contracts to supply the US armed forces stationed in Britain, mainland Europe and Turkey - was also critical to the sector's development, as was sterling's 30pc devaluation in 1949 which made Irish beef competitive on world markets with Australian and Argentine supplies. In fact, by 1960 exports of carcass beef had surpassed the 44,000 tonnes recorded in 1954 and topped the 50,000 tonnes mark when canned meat is taken into account.

In short, Ireland punches well above its weight in the world's beef stake from 50,000 tonnes in the last century up to 550,000 tons nowadays. As next step Bord Bia announced that Ireland is on the way to enter the Chinese market in 2018.


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