Leading British retailers are unwilling to stock beef from cattle born in the Irish Republic and finished and slaughtered in the UK because of labelling concerns, an Irish parliamentary committee has been told.

Five major chains were approached on the issue, according to Bord Bia director of meat Gerard Brickley. "The response in each case was that they would be reluctant to change from their current supply arrangement, that of stocking beef from cattle born, reared and slaughtered in the UK, or Irish beef, from cattle born, reared and slaughtered in Ireland."

Supermarkets felt that because of EU labelling constraints and the public debate on mislabelling, such a change could be potentially confusing or misleading to shoppers, Brickley said. With the label 'Origin: Ireland' or 'Origin: UK', used in both countries, the beef must come from animals born, reared and slaughtered in the one country, he added.

Irish live exports to Britain, which are largely sold outside the major multiples, totalled 10,000 tonnes last year, a fivefold increase on the 2008 figure, mainly because of depressed prices in the Republic, and are expected to increase again this year.

Brickley dismissed claims by some members of 'price discrimination' against Irish live exports, pointing out that medium-sized British abattoirs accepted Irish-born animals at the same price paid to British producers, which was 5p-10p per kg less than major processors.

Such abattoirs, he said, slaughtered some 30% of cattle in Britain, supplying mainly retail butchers, the catering trade and the manufacturing sector.

As supplies tightened, multiples might change their attitudes, he added. "They will probably come to the conclusion that their farmers do not have sufficient supplies and will look to Ireland for more live ­cattle. They would regard this as a lot more domestic than some other options such as beef from South America."

Meat & Fish Supplement p53