The days of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), more commonly known as mad cow disease, are still affecting Irish beef exports, according to an Australian beef exporter.

Edgar Price, director of Australian based Nature’s Choice Exports, said the current age restriction prohibiting the export of Irish beef from cattle slaughtered over 30 months of age to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), “purely comes down to the days of the mad cow”.

Price said Saudi Arabia has “blocked the whole EU”, and implemented the age restriction on Ireland because they look at Irish beef exports as European, not Irish. He said Ireland gets “thrown in with everybody else”.

Speaking to the Irish Farmers Journal in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), this week, the Australian beef exporter said: “Australia has been selling old cows to Saudi for as long as I can remember.”


The “days of the mad cow” described by Price refer to the outbreaks of BSE in Europe in the 1980s.

In May last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised Ireland as having a negligible risk for BSE, the lowest country risk status possible.

At the time, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue described the designation as one which marked the “culmination of six years of diligent preparation” by his Department.

Minister McConalogue visited Saudi Arabia this week as part of a trade mission to the Middle East.

On Thursday, he told the Irish Farmers Journal that he and his team had secured an “agreement in principle” with Saudi Arabian officials, pending the “necessary formalities”, which will enable access to the Saudi Arabian market for Irish beef from cattle slaughtered over 30 months of age. A Bord Bia team “on the ground” in the region will now work to finalise the detail to confirm the deal.


On the competition between Irish and Australian beef exports in the growing Middle Eastern market, Price said: “I’ve heard good reviews of Irish beef but I don’t know if it would be commercially viable up here [in the Middle East].

“I have my reservations. They all love it but I’ve heard them complaining about the price, unless you do target specifically and purely that premium market.”

He explained how Australia’s “premium” beef is “long grain-fed.”

On the Middle East, he said: “There’s a big grain-fed craze up here. Quality grass-fed is more expensive than the grain-fed stuff, let’s face it, but I don’t think [the market] has matured to that yet.

“I don’t think the market up here has matured to the point where [Irish beef] is commercially viable. You might get the odd chef here or there that wants to put a particular [Irish] cut on their menu but across the board, I think grain fed and longer grain fed, is the mark of quality for them, rather than the grass-fed product.”

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