27 November 1998

Sale of BCMS data may cut cattle out of marketing chain

By Isabel Davies

BEEF producers and the live auction system could be dealt another blow if buyers use data available from the British Cattle Movement System (BCMS) to impose restrictions on the animals they are prepared to buy.

National Beef Association chief executive Robert Forster warns that there is a chance that BCMSs intention to offset some of its costs by selling information could result in companies placing overzealous and unnecessary constraints on how many times animals can be moved.

It is still not clear what information the BCMS will be allowed to release, but it could include date of birth, breed and the number of movements.

According to Mr Forster, two burger manufacturers are already insisting that they must protect themselves from any potential consumer backlash against E coli 0157 and BSE by buying beef from animals that have been moved only once – directly from the breeding farm to the finishing unit.

The NBAs concern is that, if supermarkets follow suit, many cattle will be excluded from the traditional marketing chain.

Established feeders are worried that they may lose a number of important buyers because the cattle they handle will typically have at least three movements recorded on their passports, Mr Forster says. Journeys to and from a livestock market counts as two movements.

On the possibility that supermarkets might consider buying the data to investigate movements, Mr Forster adds: "I think we have to ask what the possible motives behind supermarket interest in cattle keeping clean passports are likely to be. If they are worried about it underlining inefficiency in the rearing and finishing process we can easily point out where they are wrong.

"If it turns out to be a ploy through which they hope to sideline auction markets and undermine competitive price-fixing we think it would become a matter of legitimate public concern and hard questions would have to be asked in the right places."

None of the major supermarkets has so far confirmed whether or not BCMS data will be bought. But Safeway and Sainsbury expressed interest in such information and said that it could be something that might look at with their suppliers in the future. &#42