17 August 2001

uCHINESE is among the languages featured on a CD ROM from the Home-Grown Cereals Authority designed to promote the UK cereals industry. "Developing countries such as China are looking for new sources of cereals. By producing something in their own language we hope

Irish meat plants under attack as cattle values fall

By Philip Clarke Europe editor

IRISH cattle prices continued to slide this week, prompting further angry outbursts from farmers who accused the meat factories of profiteering.

Worst hit has been the steer price, with R3 values hitting 80p-82p/lb dw (137p-141p/kg sterling equivalent). That is a drop of almost 10p/lb (17p/kg) in just three weeks, a loss of around Ir£80/head (£62).

John Dillon, deputy president of the Irish Farmers Association, accused the meat factories of attempting to "drive Irish cattle prices down to intervention levels, allowing them to make a huge margin on beef sales into Britain and an easy return on beef going into intervention".

Current steer values in the UK are about 20p/lb (34p/kg) higher. "Farmers will not be fooled by the factories spin that there are no markets, when beef sales to Britain are at an all-time high."

Market situation

But Mr Dillons comments are refuted by the Irish Meat Association. "The price is a reflection of supply and demand in any market situation," said chief executive John Smith.

"In the absence of the purchase for destruction scheme (which removed surplus steers in the first half of the year) there just arent the outlets for the volume of cattle coming through."

The loss of Third Country markets, such as Egypt, which took over one-quarter of all Irish exports, was also hitting prices.

Sales to the UK were currently slack because of the summer holidays. Furthermore, the EUs special purchase scheme was only open to cow beef.

"The solution to the problem is to reopen additional markets," said Mr Smith. Intervention was not an option because firm UK values meant that the EU average price was being held above the (84%) threshold for buying up steers.

Bord Bia economist Poraig Brennan agreed that there was a supply-demand imbalance. The weekly kill was running at about 35,000 head compared with a more normal 27,000 for August.

BSE test

Farmers were selling more steers to clear them before they reached 30 months old, at which point they would have to be tested for BSE and would suffer a 4p/lb (7.5p/kg) discount in value.

But Joe Kilmartin, beef chairman for the Irish Cattle Traders and Stockowners Association, says farmers should not be panicked into "throwing cattle at the factories".

"Last week almost half the steer kill was made up of steers already over 30 months. These extra supplies are helping factories drop prices.

"Grass is plentiful and my advice to farmers is to hold onto unfit older cattle, plus younger cattle not yet approaching 30 months."

Mr Kilmartin also pointed to the large number of export licences already taken for sales to Russia, which weakened the factories case for a price drop. &#42