A senior official from the European Commission has said that the losses in the Chinese pig herd from African swine fever (ASF) and the resulting protein deficiency in that country "creates opportunities" for beef from Europe.

Ireland's Michael Scannell, a high-ranking director within the commission's Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development, was addressing the European Parliament's agriculture committee on the issue of the future of Europe's beef sector.

When speaking about the possible opportunities for the sector going forward, he placed particular emphasis on the ASF outbreak in China, saying the resulting loss of protein was "enormous".

The shortfall in pigmeat production in China is greater than the overall pigment production in Brazil and the US combined. It cannot be filled by imports of pigmeat alone. It does create opportunities for alternative proteins, including beef.

"Hopefully our own exporters will avail of this situation, and we’ve seen some encouraging progress in that respect in recent weeks and months, with new market access for some of our key member states," he said.

Scannell may have been referring to Ireland; at the end of last month, 14 Irish beef plants were approved to export to China, following a round of inspections by officials from the Asian country during the end of August and beginning of September.

However, making up for the Chinese pig sector losses was not the be-all and end-all where Asia is concerned, according to Scannell.

That applies also elsewhere in Asia; not just directly related to ASF, but we’ve secured new and valuable market access in South Korea.

The official also highlighted the US as a possible future target market, highlighting: "Ireland in particularly has been successful in getting approval for establishments to export fresh beef and manufacturing beef."

Scannell argued that there may also be opportunities for the sector closer to home in the EU itself.

"We cannot lose sight of our own market. We have to highlight the huge discrepancy of per capita consumption [of beef] between existing member states," he highlighted.

For example, in the highest consuming member states in northern Europe, per capita consumption is 10 times higher than it is in states like Poland or Hungary.

"There is scope for increased consumption of beef in a lot of EU member states," he stressed.

"We can also expect some knock-on impact from the very sharp increase in pigmeat prices, triggered by the ASF situation in China and, hopefully, that will work to the benefit of our beef producers," Scannell also observed.