17 November 2000

BEEF PROSPECTS BRIGHTER

SIMON Mead, MLC beef strategy manager, reports demand improving month by month with the prospects looking good.

He says: "Quality Mark mince made exclusively from regular prime cuts with offals, head meat and mechanically recovered meat rigorously excluded, is still a big driver. This is complemented by the convenience of prime steak which requires little to no preparation and can be cooked quickly and successfully by busy housewives and the growing number of single householders."

He also cautions that beef producers can not afford to get complacent, for few consumers enter a supermarket set on buying home produced prime steak or mince.

"They see UK, Irish, Australian, organic and even GMO-free beef on display competing with cheaper chicken and pork. The competition must be recognised. Clear beef labelling regulations will help to avoid consumer confusion and are expected to be a great beef confidence builder in the longer term."

Mr Mead identifies exciting opportunities for beef in the catering sector which now takes one third of all beef supplies. While most catering sector outlets have viewed beef traditionally as a price-driven commodity, there is now increasing recognition of home-produced beefs quality and safety appeal, particularly by burger manufacturers. Though volumes are fairly small even the Ministry of Defence is now putting British beef on its menus.

Mr Mead accepts that current market prices are not exciting and that the home industry will remain in a tricky post-BSE transitional period for some time. Inevitable changes in emergency legislation will have a major impact on price.

Export possibilities

He says: "At its peak the UK exported 350,000t of beef including cull cows and prime carcass cuts. BSE brought that trade to a grinding halt but it remains to be seen how long the government will fund the incineration of cull cows and over-30-month animals. It is essential for long-term stability of the industry that we actively pursue future beef export possibilities. The EU Scientific Steering Committees recent favourable verdict on the restoration of trade for nine months old, bone-in veal was at least encouraging.

"What does come over loud and clear is that consumers must be given no cause whatsoever for concern over the safety of home produced beef and its manufactured products. The industry and the Government have invested heavily in the structures which now ensure that British beef is a superb product. That investment must be protected at all costs and also exploited," says Mr Mead.