By FWi staff

AUSTRALIA, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia have joined a growing list of countries now banning sales of European beef, in the wake of the ongoing BSE crisis.

Australias embargo commenced on Monday (08 January) and adds most EU countries, plus those in eastern Europe, to the ban that already exists for British beef.

Irish traders suggest the move amounts to little more than political gesturing, since the volume of meat imported by Australia and New Zealand is so small.

The Saudi Arabia ban is potentially more significant, as it imports about 100,000t a year, much of it from the EU.

Ireland has been particularly successful in penetrating the Saudi market in recent years, selling more than 29,000t to the country in 1999.

But Ireland has been most hit by the continuing ban on its beef by Egypt, which, at more than 157,000t in 1999, is the biggest market by far.

The hope is that Egypt will lift its ban once recently introduced control measures are seen as effective.

But this could take time, so there is expected to be widespread uptake of the “purchase for destruction” scheme for over-30-month animals which got under way in plants across Ireland this week.

Other countries to close their doors to EU beef include Thailand, Japan, most central African countries and Jordan.

The combined effect on EU beef markets has been catastrophic, compounding the effects of falling internal consumption.

German R3 bull prices, for example, have slumped 23% from DM5.3/kg dw (155p/kg) in October to DM4.1/kg dw (131p/kg) at the start of January.

French R3 bull prices have fallen by a similar 21% to FF15.2/kg dw (144p/kg) last week.

The first purchase of intervention beef, totalling 12,371t at about Euro2.36/kg (148p/kg), just before Christmas, has helped put a floor in the market.

A second intervention tender is due to be judged by EU market managers in Brussels today.