19 November 1999

ITALIAN BUYERS WILL BE

AT THE WINTER FAIR TOO

ITALIAN beef buyers will again be attending the Scottish National Winter Fair in numbers.

By the time they arrive at the event on Nov 25, the first delivery of Scotch beef to Italy in 44 months should have taken place.

Ian Galloway, chairman of Scotbeef, Scotlands only firm licensed to export beef under the date-based scheme, is confident the first order of prime Scotch beef since the ban was introduced in March 1996 will have been delivered to Italy by the time the Winter Fair begins.

During the past weeks, Mr Galloways company has been shipping small quantities of beef to Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland. And although he is delighted at the prospect of again working with his Italian customers, he warns that, until the beef-on-the-bone ban is lifted, volumes are likely to remain low.

"Before the export ban, there was a big market in Italy for bone-in beef, especially from heifers," he says. "It was sold by butchers and commanded a good premium."

Unfortunately, under the date-based scheme, all beef exported has to be de-boned, vacuum packed and boxed. "In Italy, meat like that is viewed as a commodity. So lifting the bone-in ban would be a huge step forward for us in terms of regaining lost markets," Mr Galloway says.

The main barrier to exports, however, is economic, with the £ now 30% stronger against the lira than it was when the ban was imposed in 1996.

Once again, the Italian meat delegation will present a special trophy at the Winter Fair for the beef carcass best suited to the Italian market.

The award will carry prize money of 1m lira (about £330). Last years winner was Perthshire farmer James Neil, whose Limousin cross heifer had a carcass weight of 312kg and was graded U+4L.

French lamb buyers will also be among the international visitors at this years event.