By Philip Clarke, Europe editor
FARMERS in Britain and Ireland continue to receive the lowest beef prices in Europe, having missed out on steady rises over the past 12 months elsewhere on the Continent.
Prices have risen by an average of 4% in almost all other EU countries. But in the UK they have continued to fall.
At the end of last month, the official UK reference price, based on an R3 animal, was just 80p/kg, some 6% down on 12 months ago.
The reasons for such low UK prices are well understood.
Although UK demand for beef is now almost back to the pre-BSE levels, the high level of slaughterings, a lack of export opportunities, and imports continue to mean the market is well supplied
Irish prices have also continued to languish, worth just 82p/kg lw at the end of May.
“Ireland was the only cattle herd to record a rise in numbers at the end of 1997,” says a recent report from the Meat and Livestock Commission.
“High production has weighed on price, as has the lowering of export refunds and thus opportunities on Third country export markets,” the report says.
But prices in France for an R3 carcass have climbed by 8% to FFr10.7/kg liveweight, fuelled by a strong consumer preference for French beef.
According to EU figures, that is the highest price anywhere in Europeand equivalent to over 110p/kg lw in sterling terms.
Labelling has played an important part in restoring consumer confidence in France. Since last October, packets of meat have shown the origin, category and breed of each animal.
In a recent survey in Brittany, almost all the respondents said they wanted to know if beef was of French origin.