Ireland Beef Imports Could Mean Lower Prices

Beef prices last year in the United States were the highest they have been since 1987 because of the country’s declining cattle supply and increased demand. This year, however, we expect the industry to see the price of beef fall as the country begins to import beef from Ireland.

 

The United States had banned the import of beef from Ireland for the past 15 years because of the Mad Cow scare, but announced this week that imports will now be permitted. Ireland will be the first European Union state that has been given the OK to sell beef in the United States again after Mad Cow disease turned the nation against foreign beef in the 1990s. Mad Cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) is fatal to cows and can cause a fatal human brain disease in people who eat meat from infected cows. 

The average price of beef in 2013 was $5.29 per pound, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), and that stayed consistent throughout 2014. Higher prices over the past two years have been due to a lack of supply and increased demand, so lifting the import ban could help keep a little more cash in our wallets at the supermarket and at restaurants. “It could help [lower beef prices] in the short-term, but it remains to be seen how large of a supply would be made available to know if it would have definite impact,” says Christin Fernandez, director of media relations and public affairs at the National Restaurant Association.

Cattle inventory in 2014 was down three percent to 93 million from July 2012 and total U.S. beef production was 25.8 billion pounds and the country consumed 25.5 billion pounds, according to the NCBA. The NCBA predicts that the supply from Ireland won’t be enough to make a significant impact on price. “We support trade based on sound science as was the case with opening imports from Ireland,” Director of Communications Chase Adams says. “I don’t believe imports from Ireland will be of large enough quantity to significantly affect the price of beef in the U.S. It’s important to remember there is a cut of beef that will fit into any budget.”

The European Commission said the reopening of the market is a “welcome first step to abolish the disproportionate and unjustified U.S. ban that followed the BSE crisis of the 1990s and to reestablish normal trading conditions.” Authorities estimate annual exports could be worth at least $30 million. “It is now desirable that the U.S. acts expeditiously to extend the approval to the rest of the European Union and to fully bring their import conditions in line with international standards,” the European Commission statement said.

The U.S. lifted its ban on beef in March 2014, but inspections were necessary before exports were allowed to resume, according to the Associated Press.  

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