27 November 2000
Protest threat against Irish beef

By Alistair Driver

BRITISH beef farmers are threatening new protests against imports of Irish beef entering the country after failing to find a market in France.

Robert Forster, chief executive of the National Beef Association, said farmers must consider “pro-active demonstrations” to stop imports forcing down prices.

Three years ago, beef farmers blockaded Holyhead port, in North Wales, and threw Irish beefburgers into the sea in protest at cheap imports.

Now Irish exporters have turned to Britain once again in bid offload their beef following a slump in French demand sparked by the European BSE crisis.

British producers claim that supermarkets and abattoirs are forcing them to accept lower prices or face the prospect that more Irish beef will be imported.

“Displaced Irish beef is coming over here for whatever price it can get,” Mr Forster told a Farmers Weekly beef forum at the Royal Smithfield Show.

“I am always struck by the impact the November 1997 demonstrations had on prices when a few farmers from Holyhead made a point,” he added.

However, Mr Forster backed the governments refusal to ban French beef, saying it was essential that confidence in the beef market was not jeopardised.

“We must not bad-mouth imports – otherwise we will rock the boat.”

But supermarkets and retailers should stop exploiting the situation and ensure imported beef has been subject to the same controls as British beef, he said.

Deadweight prices have fallen and Mr Forster accused some abattoirs and retailers of profiteering by using the new cheap supply to drive prices down.

He said: “I believe that is unjust profit and, in the long-term interests of the beef industry, it has to stop. There is no reason for these price cuts”.

Mr Forster said that the price for steers meeting supermarket standards should be 170/kg but some were paying as little as 155-158p/kg.