tom kirwan abp

ABP UK CEO Tom Kirwan

Retaining the UK’s current food production standards will be critical in ensuring the success of the meat industry post-Brexit, according to the boss of ABP’s UK business.

Speaking to The Grocer last week at the meat processing giant’s newly revamped plant in Ellesmere, Shropshire, ABP UK CEO Tom Kirwan said the UK should resist a reduction in meat production standards in order to target new export markets.

“The EU is our nearest trading partner. Some 74% of the UK’s food exports goes to the EU bloc, so we must maintain equivalence of standards if we are to negotiate a trade deal post-Brexit,” he said.

His comments come amid growing concerns any potential trade deal with the US could lead to an influx of livestock and meat reared with growth hormones into the UK - a move branded “a step backwards” by the National Beef Association.

What will a US trade deal mean for food safety? Hear Professor Chris Elliott’s view in this video


“The British consumer sets our standards, and these standards are based on consumption of British beef that is grass-fed, hormone-free, and moving towards more traditional preparation, such as meat matured on the bone,” he added.

“When looking at the concept of good, better and best, all of the top tier of beef is now aged for longer, and the consumer is buying into that branding of British beef, which has a very high value. So much so, it’s reflected in the price the retailer pays us and the price we pay the farmers,” Kirwan said.

“I come back to equivalence of standards, and I look at the standard we operate to within our business in terms of how we operate in our slaughter halls. The British beef industry takes great care in terms of taking the hides off animals and eviscerating them while ensuring faecal contamination is at its lowest.”

After slaughter, UK businesses did not, “unlike other nations”, treat their beef with either steam pasteurisation or lactic acid. “We don’t do that in the UK so again, that’s another thing the consumer values.”

Kirwan added that ABP favoured maintaining a steady supply of labour from the EU post-Brexit, while there should be a mechanism to support farmers “in the economically sustainable production of British cattle post 2020”.

“Labour is a very emotional debate, but non-British nationals have been at the core of our development, this site is in rural Shropshire, and there are simply not enough local people available to us, so we’re glad to bring people in, and the majority of our non-British nationals are full-time employees.”