Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said that he is hopeful that Chinese authorities will reach a decision on the resumption of Irish beef exports to China “within a matter of months”.
Exports to China have been stopped after a case of atypical BSE was detected in a bovine animal in Ireland.
Mr Martin, who is on a four-day visit to China, said he was not concerned about damage to Ireland’s reputation.
“The voluntary suspension of the trade is part of a protocol that Ireland and China entered into to facilitate the entry of beef into the Chinese market,” he said.
“It is disappointing that this happened, but I think it’s a vindication of our controls. And this is an atypical case. It hasn’t entered the food chain.”
However, Mr Martin said that the key issue would be one of timing.
“We don’t have a precise timeline on it, but we would hope within a matter of months that this could be decided upon by the Chinese customs authorities,” he said.
While describing the situation as “unfortunate”, Mr Martin noted that the immediate voluntary suspension of beef exports to the country was part of an agreed protocol with China.
Asked by RTÉ News about the potential for Government financial assistance for farmers affected by the development, the Tánaiste said that Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue was dealing with the matter.
But he said he believed the impact of this atypical case would be “quite limited” in terms of farmers trading with China, noting that Ireland exports beef to around 70 countries.
Mr Martin said that he had highlighted the importance of beef and food exports to his Chinese counterparts.
The Tánaiste met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi yesterday at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse. The meeting covered a range of topics including bilateral relations, EU-China relations, multilateral engagement and regional and international issues.
The Chinese market only reopened to Irish beef exports in January, following a three-year suspension in the wake the discovery of a BSE case in 2020.
In April, Bord Bia launched a campaign to promote Irish beef in China, which has a population of 1.4 billion people.
This latest case of BSE, which was confirmed on Friday, was discovered by Department of Agriculture vets in a deceased ten-year-old cow that had been delivered for destruction.
So-called atypical BSE can occur in older cattle naturally. Classic BSE, meanwhile, is caused by contaminated feed.
The Department of Agriculture said that there was no danger of this animal entering the human food chain, and that there was no public health risk.
The Minister for Agriculture said the case should not impact on Ireland’s wider export markets.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Charlie McConalogue said atypical BSE happens sporadically and it is testament to Ireland’s high testing standards that it was detected.
“Atypical BSE is something that happens sporadically … and it’s not something that presents any food safety issue. We have the highest of testing standards anywhere in the world here in Ireland, and we have the lowest risk rating possible from the World Organisation for Animal Health, as well.”
He the animal in question was not destined for the Chinese market and was identified as part of standard testing procedures.
However, China had to be informed of the case because of an export protocol agreed with the Chinese authorities, he added.
“It’s not something we expect to have an impact in relation to our wider export levels. China is currently a small part of our overall beef exports, but an important one because we see real potential in that market in the years ahead. So we will work with the Chinese government to have it reopened as promptly as possible,” he said.
The minister also said his recent trip to South Korea focused on trying to access that country as a beef market, and that having as many markets open as possible is really important for the 70,000 families across the country involved in the industry.
Meanwhile, IFA Livestock chairman Brendan Golden said the BSE case is very disappointing and a further blow to the sector.
Speaking on the same programme, he said he hopes that Chinese authorities respond more quickly to this situation than they did in 2020.
Mr Golden said it is important that political pressure is kept on to ensure that exports resume quickly, adding that the detection of the case highlights the efficiency of the Irish systems.
He said it is important to note that this is a atypical BSE case and so there is “absolutely no risk to human or public health.”