5 April 2002

MLC claims EUsuckler rules harming UKbeef

THE UK beef industrys recovery from BSE and foot-and-mouth is being severely hampered by EU subsidy rules governing suckler cow premium, claims the Meat and Livestock Commission.

Ever since 2000, 20% of SCP could be claimed on heifers and initial data from DEFRA shows that producers are switching quota to heifers.

MLC beef economist Duncan Sinclair says "the great unknown" is how many claims are being made on slaughter heifers, rather than those kept as breeding replacements.

Figures show that in 2000, farmers used 7% of SCP, or 116,000 head, on heifers. Early indications suggest that this is likely to rise to over 10% in 2001, or 160,000 head.

And the trend may build as SCP measures allow producers to use up to 40% of SCP on heifers this year, and must include heifers in 5% of claims in 2003, he says.

But this is hindering the beef industrys recovery, argues Mr Sinclair. "The UKs import dependency has almost doubled. It was 22% in 2000 and could reach 38% this year. Over the last two years, there has been a natural drain on beef supplies through herd contraction accounting for 115,000 cows a year, representing a loss of 100,000 suckler calves to the industry each year."

The beef industry could lose a further 70,000 suckled calves this year, assuming that 10% of suckler cow quota claims are made on heifers and half of these are used on finishing, rather than breeding stock, he says.

"In some instances, producers are claiming SCP on heifers to make their slaughtering enterprise viable. At £120 a head, it compares well with beef special premium for young bulls."

But this may not be in the long-term interests of producers businesses, or the industry, he says. In 18-24 months, when those heifers offspring would have been slaughtered, there will be even less UK beef available.

He says that for producers who are making a margin on their suckler cow enterprise, switching quota to non-productive heifers may actually reduce the output of the business, while also limiting British beef output. &#42