8 December 2000

Irish beef forcing down UK prices

By James Garner

ANGLO-IRISH processors stand accused of forcing down beef deadweight prices by using cheaper Irish supplies to put pressure on the UK market.

NBA chief executive, Robert Forster, demanded that processors with a hand in both Irish and UK beef markets show their loyalty to British beef by declaring they had not shipped any in.

Because they process beef in both countries it was less clear what proportion they had sourced from the Republic of Ireland or Great Britain, said Mr Forster.

"It is clear from prime cattle prices that farmers have been shafted. The level which prices have fallen, is nothing short of a scandal."

Last week, according to Mr Forster, deadweight prices for English and Welsh R4L steers fell to 152-155p/kg, compared with the MLCs average for the week before of 167p/kg. That is a drop of nearly £40 on an average 330kg carcass.

But the allegations were flatly refuted by Dawn Meats and ABP, both with Irish operations.

"ABP did not pull prices down and is standing on prices it paid the week before," said a spokesman, who suggested prices paid last week were more like 159-160p/kg dwt.

Dawn Meats confirmed that it too held prices, despite a small drop in retail volumes, because of the BSE scandal on the Continent. "We are sticking on the same prices and supporting the British farmer," said a spokesman.

In response, Mr Forster congratulated both companies. But he reckoned there was some skulduggery going on. "Retail demand has dropped by only 3% and retailers have kept the same beef price, so there were no reasons for deadweight prices to drop."

He told farmers to demand "top-down loyalty" from all processing and beef distribution companies.

Processors highlighted that while meat values may have remained the same for prime cuts, it was fore-quarter and bone-in cuts that had taken the hit.

MLCs Duncan Sinclair confirmed that if deadweight prices did drop, there was no reason why that should be reflected in the retail price. "Prices also depend on what is happening in the manufacturing and secondary wholesale beef sector. This area may have felt more pressure from cheap Irish imports."

Better prices though, might be just around the corner, he said. "Indications are that these may rise a bit this week and that the market has stabilised."

In the live market, prices and numbers are already up this week with Mondays average market price up 5p/kg to 89p, and 20% more beasts through the ring.

But that might reflect Christmas markets and primestock show and sales, and not be true commercial trade, said Mr Sinclair.

Frome Markets David Locke believes trade will bounce back after last weeks appalling prices. "Warm yard cattle made 92p/kg, but poor cattle were selling for as low as 25p-30p/kg. But they were bad beasts that only just reached 350-400kg."

He reckoned prices might reach £1/kg in the Christmas run-in, as butchers were now preparing to buy for Christmas, which should help the market for prime beasts. &#42

BEEF ROW

&#8226 Cheap Irish imports.

&#8226 Retail volumes down slightly.

&#8226 Prices may improve now.