Tesco refuses to sell mixed-origin beef
Published:  20 August, 2014

Tesco is understood to have refused to sell beef from cattle born in the Republic of Ireland, but raised in the North, citing customer confusion over labelling as the reason behind its decision.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has challenged Tesco’s attitude. Edward Phelan, chairman, called on the retailer to produce independently verifiable research to confirm assertions made in a letter to Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness that UK consumers did not want beef from animals born in the Republic of Ireland and slaughtered in the North.

Tesco group commercial director Kevin Grace reportedly wrote: “Our research consistently tells us that customers want products that come from simple supply chains that are easy for them to understand, and are clearly labelled.”

Phelan said: “Tesco are treating their consumers like children. We’re not talking here about animals born thousands of miles from where they are finished and slaughtered. There is little or no difference between beef production methods and standards in the Republic and the North, and we find it hard to believe that a British consumer would object to beef from an animal born in Co Monaghan and finished in Co Down.”

He said that labelling was really an issue and the retailer should come up with a straightforward labelling system as used in other countries. “Italian consumers seem to have no problem understanding the mixed-origin labels on beef from cattle raised in Ireland and finished in Italy,” he continued.

“The hyping-up of outdated distinctions like the 30-month requirement is another example of the artificial obstacles used by retailers to manipulate the market. Are we really to believe that the consumer is happy to eat beef from a 29-month-old animal but not from one that is 31 months old? These fabricated excuses, which undermine farm viability, are no longer acceptable and must end now.”

Ian Marshall, president, Ulster Farmers' Union, said: "The trade of cattle across this island has been an important feature of the sector for many years and as such, all options should be considered by Government which can improve trade activities both domestically and abroad. 

"We cannot however hide the fact that there are complex EU labelling laws which have affected this historic trade and that the market for “nomad” beef has been severely damaged since the “Horsemeat Scandal” in 2013. 

"While rebranding of “nomad” beef under a voluntary “Irish” label should be welcomed from the point of view that it can potentially improve the marketing capability of this beef, the value of this beef will ultimately be decided by the market and this will have the most impact on farm businesses in Northern Ireland.”

Last month Simon Coveney, minister for agriculture, food and the marine in Ireland, met with his Northern Irish counterpart Michelle O’Neill to discuss the issues facing the beef sector on both sides of the island.

These included the decline in the traditional trade in live animals from Ireland, for slaughter in Northern Ireland, due to the focus of UK retailers on marketing beef under either the ‘Irish’ or ‘British’ label.  

The department said that while the marketing of beef is ultimately a decision for retailers to make, both ministers would work together on this issue.