9 March 2001

Abattoirs scandalous low prices under attack

By James Garner

PAYMENTS from abattoirs and processors for limited amounts of livestock being moved this week have been branded scandalous by farmers and their leaders.

While the industry welcomed movement of stock direct to abattoirs, the new scheme to move animals free from foot-and-mouth regulations off farm has left farmers in a weak bargaining position.

Many feel their hands are tied, having little choice but to market animals before quality drops. Their position is further weakened by the lack of guide prices.

But, while imported meat prices shot through the roof last week (see below) domestic values have not, angering producers. One industry source reckoned supermarkets had put pressure on abattoirs to cut prices, believing that farmers, desperate to shift stock would accept lower values than before the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

But Asda said it instructed suppliers to pay farmers the same as they were before the crisis broke.

NBA chief executive Robert Forster blamed the abattoirs: "It is the big greedy ones up to their usual tricks. The market should be going up not down, there is long demand and short supply."

He reckoned a fair price for beef cattle would be about 182p-185p/kg dw for standard grade carcasses, and not the 160p/kg dw offered by some abattoirs earlier this week. "We are advising producers to hold out for better prices, and we want livestock markets used to bargain for producers."

Siôn Roberts, NFU economist, said the organisation was prepared to get tough with abattoirs. "We know farmers are very concerned – so are we. If the MLC does not publish prices this week, we will. We need transparency in the market."

Lamb has suffered a similar fate with prices dropping to about 200-220p/kg dw, compared with 265p/kg before foot-and-mouth broke. The National Sheep Associations chief executive John Thorley has written to farm minister, Nick Brown, about possible "profiteering".

Pig prices, too, have not lived up to producers expectations. Ian Campbell of the National Pig Association, said he had heard of spot prices as low as 90p/kg dw, with better contract prices at 113p/kg.

"The end-user clearly can pay more. But retailers probably paid more for imported meat and may be trying to offset this."

Not all abattoirs are paying the same. Medium-sized abattoir R &#42 Winders at Blackpool, which supplies butchers, has paid between 175p/kg and 186p/kg dw for cattle and 230p/kg-245p/kg for sheep. But manager Paul Airrey says these prices may be unsustainable with all the extra costs to bear.

Midland Meat Packers said it was now committed to paying the same price as before the crisis. Two others, Dawn Meats and ABP said they were standing on pre-foot-and-mouth prices as well.

All pointed to extra costs of Meat Hygiene Service staff, vet supervision, disinfectant, slower processing lines, increased disposal costs and a fall in the market of sheep skins and cattle hides. Export bans on sheep and pigmeat are also to blame for weighing domestic prices down. &#42

Some abattoirs have been slammed by farmers this week for paying lower prices than before the foot-and-mouth crisis broke.