Two Northern Ireland processors are among four UK agri-food businesses that are officially eligible to export local beef to the USA.

WD Meats and Foyle Food Group (Foyle Campsie) have been listed by the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, a significant step following access being granted in March of this year.

Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) beef and lamb chairman Sam Chesney said the development was "great news" for the region's beef sector.

"It has been long-awaited by our beef producers," he said.

It has been almost 20 years since UK beef was eligible for sale in the American market after bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) stagnated our industry and all UK beef imports into the States were banned in the mid-1990s.

“Being able to avail of more external markets will create better returns for our primary producers who have been under significant financial pressure in the past few years.

"In particular, the offal market has been very volatile this year due to the pandemic and we hope this access to the US market will create higher demand for products that have taken a serious hit in sales.

“NI beef producers produce trustworthy, traceable beef, farmed to some of the highest animal welfare, environmental and food production standards in the world which we are hugely proud of.

This breakthrough with America highlights that their officials have recognised the high-quality products that we have to offer and we are confident that they will be well received by American consumers.

“We would urge UK Government officials and industry stakeholders to continue their work in ensuring there is no delay getting products exported to the USA and we appreciate their work to-date on this.”

'A historic moment’

The US announced plans to lift the now 24-year ban on British beef imports back in March after a three-week inspection back in 2019.

The US has had a ban in place on British beef since 1996 following an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

The move has been welcomed by the UK government and it has stated it opens the door to an estimated £66 million of export opportunities for farmers over the next five years.

Phil Hadley, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) international market development director, said the development was “a historic moment” for livestock farmers in the UK.

“We are rightly proud of our industry, which has a reputation for producing high-quality beef to some of the best welfare standards in the world," he said.

"The US represents an important potential market for our red meat exports, and this development is the result of the hard work and persistence of industry and government to bring about this crucial next step."