Approval for UK sheepmeat store aid due in days
By Robert Harris
PRIVATE storage aid for UK sheepmeat could be approved within days, helping to stabilise lamb values which have slumped by 30% since July.
The news follows farm minister, Nick Browns, request to Brussels for a speedy introduction of the scheme in a week which saw finished lamb prices settle at 71p/kg.
European Commission officials appeared to be in favour of aid, says Kevin Pearce, the NFUs livestock adviser. "Their reaction was quite positive. But it will need to go before a management committee for final approval."
A request to bring forward the next sheep management committee meeting, due to take place on Sept 24, has been made by the commission, but a decision has yet to be taken, says a Brussels spokesman.
But the Meat and Livestock Commissions David Croston says there is a chance the matter could be raised at next weeks beef meeting. "The proposal needs the support of another member state. I would expect backing from the Irish, who have tentatively asked for private storage aid. The chances look reasonably good."
Under the scheme, abattoirs bid for tenders to freeze freshly slaughtered meat and store it for three to seven months, helping stabilise prices. Last October, about 1800t of UK lamb was removed in this way, although that was short of the 2400t limit. It attracted a subsidy of £965/t. Similar tonnage and aid would need to be offered this time round, says Mr Croston.
National Sheep Association secretary, John Thorley, expects better prices once the aid is introduced. "The number of lambs sold so far this year is higher than last year and using PSA could just be enough to lift the market."
Barry Jones, managing director of Oriel Jones & Son, Carmarthen, counters some producers accusations that aid simply delays the pain by undermining the market when stocks are released.
Small lambs frozen now will be able to take on New Zealand supplies in supermarket freezer cabinets in the spring, he says. "Supply is outstripping demand. This will help the market by keeping our production up while limiting sales. It will not affect UK fresh lamb when it is released."
Alan Craig, general manager of ABP Bathgate, is also keen to see the scheme introduced. "Last time we took about 50% of the offer, about 60,000 lambs."
About 250t of this was cut to New Zealand specification to compete with imports. "We have just started to speak to retailers again and they are showing interest." *