By FWi staff

BEEF imports are likely to reach their highest level for 50 years next year as home production continues to slide.

Recent Meat and Livestock Commission estimates predict about 340,000t of beef imports will enter the country next year, accounting for 37% of forecast UK beef consumption in 2002.

This will be the highest level since 1946, when imports immediately after the Second World War reached 41% of consumption.

Beef production in the UK is set to fall further from 708,000t in 2000 to just 590,000t next year, mainly due to the foot-and-mouth cull removing 135,000 prime cattle from the food chain, says the organisation.

The National Beef Association warns that higher levels of imports could have serious long-term impacts on profitability as the market dwindles and remains vulnerable to cheap foreign imports.

In response, the NBA has called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency to insist that UK retailers adopt the EUs stringent country of origin labels on 1 January, 2002, to help boost British beef sales.