17 November 1995

Offal charge clouds beef markets

By Tim Relf

BEEF prices tumbled in some early markets this week as buyers stayed away from, or were reluctant to bid at, markets which had refused to deduct the new £3.50 a head cattle offal handling charge.

At Newark, where bullocks averaged 134p/kg and heifers 123p/kg, auctioneer Paul Gentry says heifer prices fell over 5p compared with the week before.

Alan Webber at Exeter says the issue "dominated" the fat trade on Monday, resulting in overall averages falling between 7p and 10p/kg. Heavy steers were particularly affected, he adds.

At the same time, entries in some Monday markets were down as farmers, anticipating the interruption, postponed marketing their stock.

Numbers at Exeter, for example, could have been 50% higher had it not been for this issue, says Mr Webber.

Firm underlying trade

But auctioneers stress that the disruption comes during a period when the underlying trade is firm. At the end of October, for instance, prices were over 10p/kg above year-earlier levels.

Availability during the final quarter of the year is likely to be similar to or slightly lower than in 1994, according to the MLC.

And strong exports, historically low imports and depleted intervention stocks will also shore up prices.

As farmers weekly went to press, auctioneers were hoping for a swift resolution of the situation. "Hopefully, it will be over by early next week," says Mr Gentry.

But some downward pressure on prices could then be seen as any backlog of cattle is marketed. &#42