Beef scare has a silver lining for Donegal butchers

Declan Magee


Declan Magee

Butchers in the county have reported an increase in trade in the last three weeks following the scare surrounding the discovery of horse meat in beef products.

Butchers in the county have reported an increase in trade in the last three weeks following the scare surrounding the discovery of horse meat in beef products.

Local butchers say they have seen an increase in business in recent weeks with customers showing an increased interested in the traceability of meat.

The scare began last month with the discovery of horse DNA in beef burgers sold in supermarkets in Ireland and the UK. Shoppers are now turning to traditional family butchers to buy their meat products.

Donegal Town butcher Ernan McGettigan said his business has seen an increase in recent weeks with burger sales remaining steady and sales of minced steak increasing. He said the crisis has been positive for craft butchers which are now benefiting because of the traceability of their products.

“We are well covered, we can trace every product that we manufacturer,” he said. “The meat we are using we can trace back to the farm. The customers that are coming in are talking about it. Some of them have admitted that they bought mince in packets from a supermarket but won’t do it again. They have a confidence in their local butcher. These are family businesses and most butchers are second or third generation. We are working very hard to certify craft butchers so they all come up to a certain level. Last weekend was busier and that is a good sign.”

But he said the food industry could have done without the crisis. “It is a difficult time for everyone. We did not need this either. It is about confidence in food.”

Letterkenny butcher Patrick Gildea said sales of minced steak have trebled in the three weeks since the scare over contamination of beef products with horse DNA began. Pointing to the herd number on a board in his shop, he said people are confident when they come into a butcher about the traceability of the produce. “We do everything in front of them - mince the meat and make the burgers. Everything is produced in the shop.”

He said the crisis in confidence in meat products is good for traditional family butchers. “Up to a year ago they were in decline because we cannot compete with the supermarkets and their 33 per cent off. Butchers just can’t do that.” He said business has been on the increase in the last three months. “You would except a decline in January but we have not seen it and since the scare the increase has been massive. Every customer is talking about it. They want to know where their produce comes from.”

Johnny McLoone of Conal McLoone’s butchers in Killybegs said while there has been no dramatic increase, business has remained steady and had been on the increase before the scare. “A lot of people are talking about it when they come into the shop and people are talking about traceability. When people buy from a butcher they know they can trust where it came from.”

Chairman of the Irish Farmer’s Association in Donegal, PJ McMonagle, said an increase in business for butchers would benefit the local beef industry. “It will have a positive impact on beef farming if more people buy from the butcher. If butchers are having more trade they will have to go out and buy extra cattle. That should all help.”

He said the IFA’s view is that the government needs to come down hard on meat processing factories and what they are bringing in to add to the meat products. “There has to be more traceability on secondary products,” he said. “The meat from the farmer is 100 per cent but the secondary meat must get same rigorous checks as the farmer’s are getting.”