The first shipment of beef from the United Kingdom to the United States in more than 20 years was dispatched this week.

The U.S. market had been closed to EU beef since January 1998, when the country introduced import restrictions on beef, sheep and goats and their products because of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) concerns. BSE is also called mad cow disease.

Four businesses in Northern Ireland and Wales have been listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), as eligible to export beef to America.

The first shipment of beef from Foyle Food Group of Foyle Campsie in Northern Ireland has been dispatched, with further lots from across the UK expected in the coming weeks. Kepak Group in Merthyr, Wales, as well as WD Meats and Granville Food Care in Northern Ireland, can also start production and export of UK beef for U.S. consumers.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Our beef is renowned as some of the best in the world for its high quality, food safety and welfare standards, and this landmark milestone means more people around the globe can enjoy our product.”

A long process
The U.S. started to progressively reopen its market to exports of beef from the European Union, starting with the Republic of Ireland, in 2015.

In March 2020, the U.S. agreed equivalence of standards on the UK’s disease control measures following a three-week inspection this past summer.

The USDA’s FSIS audit report found that UK meat hygiene systems and controls are of a suitable, equivalent standard for products to be imported to the U.S.

The report noted all the UK meets the U.S.’s production requirements, so beef from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is eligible for export. The FSIS inspected five beef sites, four pork and lamb, and several laboratories across the UK between July and August 2019.

Phil Hadley, AHDB International Market Development Director, said the U.S. represents an important potential market for red meat exports.

“This important milestone will bring a fantastic boost to the sector and we look forward to seeing more of our red meat served up on dinner tables across the U.S. in the months and years to come,” he said.

Karen Pierce, British Ambassador to the U.S., said: “American consumers already have an appetite for a range of quality British products, including fine cheeses, whisky, salmon and biscuits, and beef is sure to become popular in the States.”

The government is also in the process of negotiating a UK-US free trade agreement following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said the beef agreement could be the tip of the iceberg with further opportunities for British agriculture because of the potential trade deal.

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