Category: Archive

The sizzle is back

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The flyers, complete with order forms, are aimed at whetting Irish-inclined appetites from coast to coast in advance of Christmas.
The sausage, bacon and egg cover with the attached “Galtee” logo would appear to be an easy enough sell. And the Galtee website doesn’t hold back. It carries its own version of an Emeril “bam.”
“It is again possible to wake up to the aroma of Irish bacon, the sizzle of Irish sausages and the prospect of the best Irish food for breakfast,” it trumpets.
Sizzle indeed. But why “again?”
The Irish pork and bacon business in America is only now beginning to fully emerge from a trough heavily due to last year’s foot-and-mouth disease scare.
But even before foot and mouth there were problems.
Back in the summer of 2000, passengers traveling from Ireland to the U.S. started to come across advisory notices at the duty-free stores in Dublin and Shannon airports. The notices told potential buyers of duty-free bacon products that they would not be able to clear them through customs at their U.S. destination — this despite the longstanding agreement between the Irish and U.S. governments with regard to the importation of rashers, sausages and black and white pudding.
What was to become a frustrating import ban on bacon products made by the Dairygold company — which owns the Galtee label — was first rooted in renovation work at the main Dairygold processing plant in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork.
The work was mandated following an inspection of the plant carried out jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Irish government’s Department of Agriculture.
The joint meat processing inspection and approval program run by both Washington and Dublin stems from the early 1990s.
In late 1992, Ireland, under pressure from the European Union, began importing meat products from other countries for further processing in Ireland.
This, in turn, prompted the U.S. to conclude that meat imports from Ireland were not necessarily entirely Irish in content.
Just before Christmas 1992, U.S. officials began large-scale confiscation of duty-free Irish bacon carried by arriving passengers at JFK and Logan. The move caused some uproar at the time and led to a more formalized and detailed agreement by which specific Irish bacon products could be imported by U.S.-bound passengers if accompanied by a special USDA white inspection form.
It was the continued need for that form that resulted in the bacon bust-up of 2000.
Following the Mitchelstown inspection, it was agreed by both departments and the company that some changes were required in the plant’s physical structure before the forms could be issued again.
A USDA spokeswoman said at the time that its officials had visited the Mitchelstown plant and on the basis of recommendations, the plant — known to the USDA as simply “Establishment 293” — had been “voluntarily delisted” by the company in conjunction with the Irish Department of Agriculture.
It was made clear that the restrictions were aimed solely at the Mitchelstown plant and not the Dairygold company in general.
Problem was, the County Cork plant was the main supplier of bacon products for the U.S. market.
The result was considerable confusion at Irish airports that summer. Some U.S.-bound passengers continued buying Galtee products despite the warning notices. This resulted in confiscations at U.S. airports.
The confusion was only heightened by the fact that the Galtee products were remained on public sale. This was due to the fact that passengers bound for the U.K. or Europe could still buy them.
The Americans, it seemed, were simply being fussier that their British and European counterparts about the production process.
Still, the restrictions were only expected to last a few weeks and to make matters a little more palatable, bacon products from a plant producing the Galtee brands in Northern Ireland were brought on stream.
But then, disaster. The outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in early 2001 — though its main effects were felt in Britain — resulted in a U.S. ban on imported Irish pork and bacon products from both sides of the border.
“Foot and mouth put a stop to everything. It wiped us out. We couldn’t bring anything in,” Sean James, who runs New York-based Irish Food Distributors, said this week.
There was some relief in that part of IFD’s import business centered on Irish sausages.
“We were able to import the raw ingredients and make the sausages here in the U.S.,” James said.
But the bacon and pudding part of the business was stopped cold.
James, whose trucks supply Irish food products directly to supermarkets, restaurants and corner delis in a line from Boston to Philadelphia, said that the Irish bacon import business has only really been recovering since the summer just past.
“It’s really only picking up since September of this year. We have been heavily restocking with product supply in the last couple of months,” he said.
Those products, which are once again coming from Mitchelstown, find their way to the table in several ways: Off the store shelf, to your door in a box by means of a catalog or a website, or again through duty free shops at Irish airports.
Despite all the obstacles of the past couple of years, the long-term future of the great Irish breakfast in America would now appear to be again hot and getting hotter.
“Consumption of Irish food products such as bacon and sausages is really going up. Availability is the key,” said James. “And it’s looking good for Christmas.”

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