25 April 1997

Imports flooding in

EVIDENCE that the UK is becoming the beef dumping ground of Europe grew this week after the Meat and Livestock Commission released figures which show a sizeable increase in beef imports from the EU.

Figures released for January show UK beef imports from the EU totalled 9536t compared to just 7411t in Jan 1996.

The 23% import increase comes at a time when beef consumption in the UK is still 12% below the pre-BSE crisis levels.

The largest increase in imports came from Ireland, which exported 4059t compared to 2131t in 1996; the Netherlands, where exports to the UK rose from 337t to 1079t and Germany (69t to 530t).

Market analysts at the MLC said the current increase in beef imports was mainly due to economic and market factors: "The European beef market is still flat on the floor and so there is a temptation to sell to the UK where demand is greater, and this has been aided by the strength of sterling.

"Another smaller factor has ironically been the successful export of lamb to the EU, which has meant there have been plenty of lorries to fill up with beef on return journeys," said an MLC spokesman.

However, the meat trade argued that the OTMS scheme had led to a shortage of cow beef, which was one reason for the rise in imports from other EU countries.

Beef farmers have raised concern that their market is being swamped by beef from EU countries, which do not have the same stringent specified bovine offal and meat and bonemeal regulations.

Kate Trotman, NFU livestock spokeswoman said she hoped the specialist two-day conference in Brussels, coordinated by EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler, on animal feeds in livestock on July 1/2 would tackle the issue.