By Philip Clarke

CATTLE prices came under pressure this week as the UK trade started to feel the effects of the BSE crisis in France.

Finished steers were down by 2.5p/kg at the start of the week, to just 83p/kg in sample markets.

This downturn comes at a time when prices would normally be rising strongly.

“There was a lot of product around last week,” said Meat and Livestock Commission economist Duncan Sinclair.

Steer and heifer slaughterings were a seasonally high 42,000 and there were more imports.

“Much of this was product originally intended for France, but re-routed to the UK,” said Mr Sinclair.

“France has seen about a 35% drop in beef consumption, and Italy even more.

“With the strength of Sterling, it becomes very attractive to send it here.”

Irish traders have certainly been quick to turn to the UK, as their markets have been particularly hard hit.

But it is cow beef which has been hit the hardest, averaging just 93p/kg deadweight in Ireland, a drop of 28% since the start of the month.

Brussels has therefore announced a private storage aid scheme for cow beef, to start from next Monday (27 November).

This will be open until the beginning of February and will be limited to fresh or chilled half carcasses from category D cows.

Storage is for three months at a rate of Euro472/t (283/t).

There is also an option to extend this to six months.

It remains to be seen how attractive PSA will be, though Irish sources have been quick to condemn it.

Irish Farmers Association livestock chairman, Derek Deane, said it was “a totally inadequate response to the disruption in the European beef meat market”.

The IFA has called for a full reinstatement of the 40% cut in export refunds seen earlier this year.