British beef producers claim they are being undercut by a recent surge in Polish and Irish beef imports.
Chris Mallon, national director of the National Beef Association (NBA), said producers were concerned about the increase in Polish beef imports in the UK since October.
“People were finishing cattle coming up to Christmas specifically for that trade, but the abattoirs were not out there looking for cattle,” he added.
|EU cattle reference prices|
Week ending 17 Jan (p/kg DW)
“If you look at the Angus brand, producers in the South West were encouraged to expand their output last year. But when the cattle are ready they are told the demand isn’t there.”
British beef producers were sometimes being asked to wait five to six weeks to sell, he added. In that time, animals can go out of condition, which makes them harder to sell.
One Devon beef producer said trade in domestic cattle aged over 30 months had fallen back while more Polish and Irish culled cows were coming in.
“The processing has gone back, the market has gone back and we’re getting Polish and Irish beef coming in. Despite the transport costs, this must be cheaper and therefore it’s bringing down the price.”
The NFU said Polish beef imports had increased since the summer after the Polish government banned the religious slaughter of animals. And Polish meat producers were seeking alternatives in the EU as exports to Muslim countries had been hit.
Staffordshire NFU chairman David Brookes told NFU Council on Tuesday that Polish beef imports were undercutting British beef farmers. Polish beef was being sold at £1/kg less than domestic beef, he said.
“It is going into major caterers. The effect it is having on our market has to be heavily scrutinised. Clearly it hasn’t got the assurance or the standards that we work to. It is meeting a ready market at the price it is coming in at, but it has destabilised a lot of our beef market since Christmas.”
EBLEX sector director Nick Allen said: “We would typically expect to see consumer demand drop post-Christmas and for this to have an effect on the farmgate price, as we are experiencing now.
“Anecdotally we are hearing that cold stores are already full of British beef and cheaper imports would certainly not be helpful in that situation.
“If it is the case that there are increased quantities of low-priced Polish beef coming on to the UK market, that is going to exert downward pressure on prices at a time when the market really doesn’t need it.”
However, ABP Food Group, which last month acquired a second production site in Poland, refuted claims that exports were undermining British beef prices. “Export levels from Poland to the UK have remained at the same levels for the past two years. The real growth in demand for our Polish beef is coming from continental Europe.”