Opening US and China remains top priority, says Northern Irish meat processor

With the election only weeks away, opening up export markets in the US and China should be regarded as an economic and political priority, according to the CEO of food and feeds company Fane Valley.

Trevor Lockhart told employees at the Co Armagh-based groups annual meeting, that gaining access to lucrative markets for beef from Northern Ireland should be a top priority for government.

Lockhart said the key to unlocking this potential will be obtaining the necessary veterinary and technical certifications. Industry and government have much to do in this regard.

In parallel we must also develop the business models which will allow Northern Ireland to maximise the return from these exciting new opportunities and to fulfil the undoubted potential for the industry. Fane Valley is well resourced and ideally placed to play a full part in realising the vision for the future, he added.

Beef and lamb levy board Eblex is also hopeful of opening up the Chinese market for beef, revealing it could potentially worth 39 billion this year.

This year Ireland was the first European country to gain US market access for its beef since the BSE crisis, and the British beef industry is hoping for a similar fortune.

Meanwhile, Lockhart said the companys sales for 2014, which includes Linden Foods, remained largely unchanged at 336m, in what he described as a particularly challenging year.

Positive performances in our branded and added-value beef and lamb activities were overshadowed by the pressures in primary beef processing. The demand for supermarket specification animals was intense in the aftermath of horsegate as processors sought to fulfil the requirements of the UK multiples, Lockhart told employees.

This initially pushed cattle prices to record highs. At the same time, significantly reduced demand across Europe for manufacturing meat resulted in the build-up of substantial meat stocks. This eventually had a more depressive effect on cattle prices. However, the lower cattle prices did not compensate fully for the reduced market returns and the end result was a reduction in processor margins, something that was experienced across the trade.

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