By FWi staff
LIVESTOCK farmers have welcomed the pledge by agriculture minister Nick Brown to ask the European Commission to introduce Private Storage Aid for sheep meat.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, said it was vital for the commission to realise how critical it was to act in favour of the ministers application.

The aid should be implemented as soon as possible, he said.

“The NFU will now be turning its attention to lobbying the Commission to ensure that this happens.”

If implemented, the scheme would subsidise the freezing of freshly slaughtered meat to keep it off the market for seven months in the hope prices would stabilise.

The idea is that if the meat is off the market prices should rise.

Gwyn Howells, director general of the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) also welcomed the announcement.

The introduction of private storage aid would have a positive impact on the depressed market for finished lambs, he said.

“We particularly welcome the decision by the minister to request the introduction of these aids as quickly as possible,” he said.

The MLC has started discussions with a number of caterers and processors about the possibility of using more British frozen lamb when the storage period ends.

The scheme will run in the same way as it was last autumn when tenders were put out to traders to store the frozen lambs for between three to seven months.

But private storage aid in 1998 barely raised the market price at all.

However, John Thorley, secretary of the national believes that this time the market should be boosted.

“The number of lambs sold so far this year to date is higher than last year and using PSA could just be enough to lift the market,” he said.

Mr Thorley said that a rise of 20p/kg was needed “but quite frankly thats expecting too much.”

The confidence of the sheep industry has been very badly hit and farmers need a demonstration of government interest, said Mr Thorley.

Exports are also vitally important to the sheep industry, he said. “The industry has been developed on a high percentage of lambs being sold in the European Union.”

Although a large number of lambs have been shifted at current values, there have been difficulties with exports due to the high value of Sterling.

Under the storage aid scheme last year, meat processor ABP put in a tender for 250 tonnes of lamb in a joint venture with Sainsburys.

The meat was cut to New Zealand specifications and was offered side by side with imports.

Although sales werent as good as they had hoped Sainsburys and ABP are planning to do the same again.

Alan Craig from ABP, Bathgate said the two companies were in talks.

A spokesman from Sainsburys said they would be making a tender although it would need to be the right amount and at the right quality.