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Months to go before Europe serves up British beef

18 November 1998
Months to go before Europe serves up British beef

BRITISH beef is unlikely to grace the dining tables of Europe and the rest of the world for several more months – even if the European Union lifts the export ban next week …more…


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Months to go before Europe serves up British beef

18 November 1998
Months to go before Europe serves up British beef

By Philip Clarke, Europe Editor

BRITISH beef is unlikely to grace the dining tables of Europe and the rest of the world for several more months – even if the European Union lifts the export ban next week.

If European farm ministers vote to lift the ban at Farm Council next Monday (23 November), industry leaders have warned that it will some time before the first shipment of beef heads for the Continent.

British farmers and meat processors are likely to encounter similar problems to those faced after the export ban was lifted for Northern Ireland last March.

The first one-tonne load of beef from Ulster failed to leave port until the end of June, as EU inspectors made further checks of procedures and meat plants.

That initial beef shipment was little more than a publicity stunt. Regular commercial trade did not get under way until September – six months after the initial announcement.

Even now, only one export container a week is leaving the compound of Northern Irelands single licensed operator, Granville Meat – equivalent to about 25t a week.

“Its been even tougher than we expected, with fewer opportunities than we hoped for,” says company director Richard Moore.

“No one is prepared to buy forward and the major retailers are still very nervous. We also expected some Third country business, but none has come in yet.”

A similar pattern of events is expected with the wider lifting of the beef ban under the date-based scheme.

Brussels inspectors will have to visit the UK again, before giving the all clear – probably next March.

Traders will then face the onerous task of finding a home for their product. Efforts will focus on the quality end of the market, supplying farm assured suckler beef to Continental hotels and restaurants.

“I do not expect us to sell a single tonne to German retailers,” says Maximilian Graf Saurma, agent for the Meat and Livestock Commission in Frankfurt.

“Some restaurants may start taking it again, but it will have to be Scottish, sold on special promotion.”

Shifting commodity beef will be almost impossible, adds MLC economist, Duncan Sinclair.

Despite some recent currency weakening, Sterling still stands at DM2.8 against the Deutschmark compared with DM2.3 when exports were at their peak in 1995.

More significantly, the Russian market, which took 40% of all EU exports last year, has now all but vanished.

“Brussels can increase export refunds as much as it wants, but if the market is not taking beef it will not really help,” says Mr Sinclair.

Before the BSE crisis struck, in March 1996, the UK exported about 3400t of beef a week, equivalent to about 11,000 carcasses a week or 25% of the national kill.

The annual trade was worth £520 million.

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