15 October 1999

Hope for UK beef demand

DEMAND for British beef among retailers could firm next season as Irish supplies are diverted to specialist live export markets.

Poor domestic store cattle prices are encouraging many Irish producers to send stock abroad for finishing, with 11,000 heading for Spain and Italy in the week ending Oct 9. Values in the republic are averaging 150p/kg deadweight for 350kg bullocks – down at least 10% on the year – against finished prices in these export countries of 118p/kg liveweight.

The National Beef Association believes that will reduce the amount of supermarket-type cattle likely to be imported into the UK next year, helping to firm domestic prices. So far this year 223,000 cattle have been exported from the republic against 85,000 for the same period last year.

Some may be coming into main-land UK, although auctioneers deny strongly that such a trade exists. The Irish Food Boards cattle movement figures suggest just under 1600 cattle have made their way to Great Britain this year, although this will include breeding heifers.

Although a controversial trade to some finishers, the NBA suggests imports of store or finished cattle from Ireland – particularly the North – for slaughter in mainland plants could be beneficial to the home market. "Effectively, there is a huge discounted pool of cattle at 154p/kg deadweight in Northern Ireland and that is a huge drag on the British market," says NBAs Robert Forster.

With 23% of beef being imported, it could be better to have a portion of these cattle – selected from farm assured/high welfare units to meet supermarket specification – and slaughter here at 174p/kg deadweight rather than domestic supplies constantly competing against cheaper imports.

How much effect the swing in Irish exports will have on domestic prices is unknown. The Meat and Livestock Commission is to recalculate its predictions. &#42