14 September 2001

Irish make most of severe British beef shortages

By James Garner

MORE Irish beef is finding its way on to British consumers plates as its imports soar on the back of the UKs foot-and-mouth supply problems and lower production.

This year, UK meat eaters are likely to consume an extra 80,000t of foreign beef, the majority originating from across the Irish Sea.

Irish beef normally accounts for 115,000t – 55% – of British imports.

Michael Duffy, head of Bord Bia, told a Waterford chamber of commerce business breakfast: "The absence from the [UK] market of South American suppliers and more recently Zimbabwe means Ireland could exceed normal market share, with exports potentially reaching 170,000-180,000t."

Price also favours the Irish product. It is currently trading at 136p/kg – a 30p/kg discount for the same quality animal produced in Great Britain.

Dwindling production and F&M culls mean total imports are predicted to increase further next year to 340,000t, or 37% of UK consumption – the highest level since World War Two.

Asda says 10-15% of its beef in English stores is Irish. "We have had to stock it since F&M to safeguard supplies. We would rather stock Irish beef than beef from Argentina," said a spokeswoman.

Robert Forster, head of the Nat-ional Beef Association, sees this as a real problem, but refused to blame the retailers for selling Irish beef.

"They have to stock their shelves and we want consumers to be able to buy beef when they want to. To reclaim market share we need to produce as many cattle as we can to keep imports down."

He hoped that DEFRAs announcement on animal movements would allow beef finishing units to restock with cattle before the winter and ease the passage of dairy bred calves to rearers.

Cheap Irish beef could keep a lid on prices unless Ireland resumes Third Country exports, particularly to Egypt, said the Meat and Livestock Commissions Duncan Sinclair. "If the Irish could shift 30,000-40,000t this autumn to Egypt this could be very helpful."

&#8226 There is plenty of British pigmeat available but the mix of cuts is failing to meet market requirements, according to MLC pigmeat economist Tony Fowler.

He said there had been some substitution. "We have been short of legs and loins and have too many shoulders, but I expect lower imports than last year."

However, there is already evidence that Danish pork is taking a larger slice of the UK market, with supplies up by 12% in the first half of this year. &#42