British beef set to return to SA shelves

A UK trade mission is hoping to convince South Africans to once again serve up British beef on their plates, after a 15-year ban on its products was lifted at the end of last year.

Growing demand for beef products has made SA an attractive destination for many producers.

Last year South African authorities gave the go-ahead for deboned beef from anatomically recognisable cuts, as well as a significant range of offal from the UK, to be sold locally. Next week a trade delegation will visit SA to try to convince retailers to buy their products now that the barriers to trade have been lifted.

The South African market was the largest non-European Union destination for British beef prior to 1996. Head of trade development for UK beef industry body EBLEX, Peter Hardwick, said there had been a lengthy negotiation process with the South African authorities to secure the opening of the market.

“This should be seen as a significant breakthrough for our industry,” he said.

The UK is already a major importer of South African farming produce including wine, fruit and game meat. The two countries’ governments were committed to doubling the amount of two-way trade over the next few years, the British High Commission said.

The UK was banned from exporting beef to most countries in 1996 after an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad-cow disease. More than 180000 cases were confirmed and about 4-million animals were slaughtered to eradicate the disease.

Agricultural Business Chamber CEO John Purchase said SA was 95% self-sufficient in beef products.

“It may be a challenge for them (British exporters) considering the costs of importing from such a distance,” Mr Purchase said.

While SA only lifted the ban on British beef last year, the European Union lifted its ban a few years ago, vice-council for UK trade and investment Sandra Warne said.

“It is a great breakthrough for us. We hope to extend to other cuts of meat in future,” she said. The landscape had changed since British beef was banned and new entrants were able to take the front seat. “We think we can compete with Australia and Ireland.”

The trade delegation will meet with retailers in Johannesburg and Cape Town to convince them to stock up on British beef cuts, she said.

Jean-Pierre Garnier, also with EBLEX, said SA was an attractive market for the UK. “It’s a rapidly growing market, with a growing economy and a middle class with disposable income. It is a growth market compared to some of the stagnant European markets.”

Although meat production was increasing in SA, this was not enough to meet the growing demand in some markets, he said.

“This is where we would come in. Besides, we are friends of SA, we have a very strong relationship.”

There were cuts where the British could compete with Namibia, despite its proximity to SA, he said.

“About 5% of a huge market like SA is still big for us. It works both ways; we have an appetite for game meat and SA has a market for other cuts. It is a mutually beneficial arrangement,” Garnier said.

Worldwide beef exports (excluding offal) from the UK rose to the equivalent of R5,2bn last year, their highest level since 1995, the high commission said.

Source: Business Day