An outbreak of BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy aka Mad Cow Disease) can be a devastating development for a country’s beef exports. The United States has gone through it, as a domestic occurrence closed the Japanese market for years. The United Kingdom has just broken into the American market for the first time in more than 20 years, after a BSE outbreak in the EU in 1996.

The first shipment of beef originating from Foyle Food Group, Foyle Campsie in Northern Ireland is to be dispatched to the U.S. Further shipments from across the UK are expected to commence in the coming weeks, reported the UK Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). It is estimated that U.S. beef exports will be worth £66 million over the next five years.

The AHDB believes that the biggest opportunities for UK beef in the American marketplace is foodservice, restaurants and hotels. UK beef is sold as a high-end, desirable product that has been produced with integrity, says Dr. Phil Hadley, AHDB International Market Development Director.

“A great selling point for the UK is that livestock is fed mostly a high forage diet from the lush British countryside due to our wet and mild climate which is great for grass growth,” he says. “Added to this, the UK operates to some of the highest welfare and food safety standards in the world.”

Three plants are currently certified to export to the United States. Those facilities are in full compliance with the UK/EU regulations, plus additional requirements as part of U.S. controls, explains Dr. Hadley. That requirement was on top of the process of re-opening the U.S. border to the possibility of UK beef, which he described as a “lengthy process of discussion between governments’ scientists and demonstration of the controls in place across the supply chain to manage risk, to the satisfaction of FSIS.”

The U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Audit Report, a crucial step leading to British exporters being able to sell to the U.S., was published in March 2020, and confirmed that UK meat hygiene systems and controls are of a suitable, equivalent standard for products to be imported to the USA. The report noted that the whole of the UK meets the U.S. production requirements, therefore beef from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland is eligible for exports.

Prior to this announcement, FSIS inspected multiple premises across the UK between July-August 2019. This inspection visit had in turn been preceded by years of numerous market access and technical discussions between the USA and the UK. 

These inspections were led by Defra group and the UK Export Certification Partnership and hosted by the AHDB, in partnership with Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales HCC) and other industry bodies, as well as UK national and Devolved Government Departments and Agencies. 

With the 24-year-absence from American store shelves, there is a whole generation of young shoppers who have never had the opportunity to purchase UK beef. They know nothing about the product or why it is different from the domestic beef they’ve been purchasing. Dr. Hadley says that AHDB is planning on re-establishing a connection with the American consumer.

“We will establish links with U.S. commercial companies and utilize their existing communication channels while raising the profile of UK beef and its availability to consumers in the U.S.,” he explains.