KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beef produced in Ireland will once again have a place in the US market after a 15-year absence.

The US banned beef from the European Union following an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in the late 1990s. But in March 2014, USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) issued a final rule that lifted restrictions on beef imports from countries classified by the World Animal Health Organization as a “controlled risk” for BSE. The US re-instated Irish beef imports following a successful inspection by US authorities of Ireland's beef production systems in July 2014.

“I am delighted with this confirmation that the US market is now open to Irish beef, said Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. “This is the culmination of two years of intensive work between my Department and our US counterparts to prove our credentials as a supplier of highest quality premium beef. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my US counterpart Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack with whom I’ve worked very closely on this issue to bring it to this stage.”

Removing the ban clears the way for Irish authorities to approve individual beef plants to export beef products to the US. Approval will be based on agreed criteria. Irish officials with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been working with interested beef processors to assess their readiness and suitability for some time; the department expects this work will intensify so the trade can formally begin as soon as possible.

Coveney added that the large Irish-American community in the US will be a key target for promotional efforts for Irish beef.

“This US market is a huge prize given the size of the market and the demand we know exists there for premium grass-fed beef, he said. “We now have first-mover advantage as a result of being the first EU member state to gain entry.”

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) decided the agency would consider re-instating the eligibility to ship beef to the US from countries affected by the APHIS rule change. To assess the equivalence of those countries, the countries are required to pass an FSIS audit of their food safety system for beef. The audit focused on six components of Ireland's food safety system for beef products: Government Oversight; Statutory Authority and Food-Safety Regulations; Sanitation; Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) Systems; Chemical Residue Control Programs; and Microbiological Testing Programs.