12 March 1999

Hard road to regain

beef market

Ensuring the return of British

beef overseas, developing

sheep exports and improving

traceability were all subjects

featuring at last weeks

SIA international livestock

show in Paris.

Simon Wragg reports

CONTROVERSY surrounding plans to get British beef back on to French dinner plates came to a head at last weeks SIA show as the MLCs French director clashed with UK colleagues over comments regarding the resuming of exports.

Remi Fourrier, who heads MLCs marketing of UK meat in France, reacted to comments made by Jackie Hruby of the UK-based export team. She told farmers weekly that deboned cuts of quality beef would be targeted at restaurants in a bid to restart sales in France. She added: "The French are willing to do business. Theyve not been able to fill the gap left by quality British beef."

Ms Hruby also suggested beef exports could reach 1600t/month within a year of exports resuming and France, which prior to the ban took almost a third of the UKs £520m export trade, would remain a prime target market.

While Ms Hrubys comments were factually correct, Mr Fourrier said they were likely to enrage the French Consumer Association – which he alleges is tied up with MLCs main competitor, Interbev, which promotes French beef and sheep meat.

Its a delicate issue, he warned, particularly in a country where two-thirds of consumers in a recent retailers survey said they are still concerned about meat safety following BSE.

"My colleagues have to realise that the MLC must be extremely humble in its attempts to win back markets for British beef in this country. The situation here is very political; only time will work for us and we must keep a low profile," he warned.

Instead of a planned strategy targeting individual sectors such as catering, MLC will continue to talk to the French Consumers Association and trade journalists about British steps to improve safety of beef in a bid to win support, said Mr Fourrier.

"Our task is to move British beef away from BSE and towards an image of quality. Its wrong to say we will target a specific sector; we will offer a quality product and see whether the market is willing to take it," he said.

Interbevs director general Jean-Louis Bignon said in a separate interview with farmers weekly that a cautious approach to restarting sales is the only route for British beef.

"There must be complete openness when talking to the Consumers Association and trade. Its very important here," he said.

Beef exports

&#8226 Situation political.

&#8226 No formal plan.

&#8226 Talks with trade.

BEEFEXPORTS

&#8226 Situation political.

&#8226 Cautious approach.

&#8226 Talks with trade.