3 August 2001

Likely 50-year high for beef imports next year

BEEF imports are likely to reach their highest level for 50 years next year as home production continues to slide, due to foot-and-mouth related supply problems allowing imports to flood in.

Recent Meat and Livestock Commission estimates predict about 340,000t of beef imports will enter the country next year. That is 135,000t more than last year, and will account for 37% of forecast UK beef consumption in 2002.

This will be the highest level since 1946 when imports immediately after the second world war reached 41% of consumption.

Additional imports will be needed to meet demand though, as beef production in the UK is set to fall further from 708,000t in 2000 to just 590,000t next year, says the organisation.

This is mainly due to the F&M cull which has removed 135,000 prime cattle from the food chain this year, a figure which the MLC forecasts will rise to 202,500 next year.

The National Beef Association warns that higher levels of imports could have serious long-term impacts on profitability as the market dwindles and remains vulnerable to cheap foreign imports.

Robert Forster, the NBAs chief executive, says: "Imports will reduce our aggregate price. Ireland is looking to increase its exports to the UK by 40% this year and next."

Irish R4L grade beef is trading at 142p/kg deadweight, sterling equivalent, very competitive compared with the same grade UK beef, which is making 172p/kg.

Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, expects it to retain its normal share – about 56% – of UK imports, which could mean the Republics beef sales across the Irish Sea top 160,000t.

Germany and the Netherlands are also likely to benefit by supplying manufacturing grade beef at very competitive prices.

In response, the NBA has called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency to insist that UK retailers adopt the EUs stringent country of origin labels on Jan 1, 2002, to help boost British beef sales. &#42