British farmers eye domestic beef market
Plans to reverse China’s ban on British beef could be “transformational” for United Kingdom agriculture and generate 250 million pounds ($350 million), according to a leading farming industry body.
Last month, China announced plans to lift a 22-year ban on British beef imports, introduced after an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as BSE or “mad cow disease”.
UK meat processors are preparing to welcome Chinese inspectors in April, who want to see if farming and production standards have improved sufficiently.
“For the beef sector and British agriculture, this is transformational,” said Jane King, chief executive of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, or the AHDB. “By getting the beef ban lifted, we reckon it would be worth around 250 million pounds over a five-year period.”
King accompanied British Prime Minister Theresa May on her January visit to China, when lifting the ban was discussed.
“... My big play was to make sure that the prime minister was aware of how important getting British beef into the Chinese market could be,” she explained.
British beef exports halted in 1996 due to an outbreak of BSE, a fatal neurodegenerative disease that can spread from cattle to humans. It led to the deaths of 180,000 cows and more than 150 people in Britain.
The European Union lifted its ban on British beef in 2006, with the United States following in 2016. Reversing the China ban will give British farmers access to one of the world’s fastest-growing markets.
In 2016, China became world’s second-largest the beef importer behind the US, importing 800,000 metric tons worth $2.6 billion. Chinese reliance on imports grew in 2017, when beef consumption rose by 4 percent, outstripping domestic production, which increased by just 1 percent.
More than 90 percent of British beef exports are to other European Union countries. However, nonEU markets are growing. In the first half of 2017, non-EU exports rose 62 percent to total 23.5 million pounds.
Phil Hadley, international market development director at the AHDB, said that China provides a new market for premium beef as well as “fifth quarter” cuts, including offal, which are no longer popular in the UK.
“We see the market in China as being an opportunity on one hand for the lower value offal-type products, and on the other hand premium product going into high-end restaurants and hotels. There is a growing appetite for beef among Chinese consumers, it’s served far more widely,” said Hadley.
“The Asian marketplace pays markedly higher prices for fifth quarter cuts than some of our markets in Europe. So the net effect is an uplift in value of those parts, which is spread along the supply chain.”
UK farming’s next challenge, he added, is to export lamb to China, which currently does not accept British sheep products. The UK is the world’s third-largest sheep producer, behind Australia and New Zealand.
“Opening new markets will mitigate some of the potential trade disruptions we may face in a postBrexit world,” Hadley said. “And we know what an impact the China market can have from our experiences with pork.”
Last November, two Northern Irish companies gained approval to export pig trotters to China in a deal that could generate 20 million pounds a year.