14 January 2000

Tasty contract for Welsh beef

ONE of Europes largest catering butchers has signed a contract to take 350t/year of branded Welsh beef.

Ven International Versmarket and Welsh Lamb and Beef Promotions announced the deal at Horecava 2000, an international catering and restaurant exhibition in Amsterdam after a year of negotiations.

De-boned steer and heifer beef with a retail value of around £3m a year will be processed by the St Merryn Food Group at its new south Wales plant and exported under the date-based scheme.

Don Thomas, managing director of WLBP, said Ven had been impressed by the quality of Welsh lamb supplied for over 18 months, and consumer reaction to it. Their representatives had been to Wales, met farmers, and seen the natural environment in which cattle grazed.

They were keen to buy branded Welsh beef from a system underpinned by a robust quality assurance scheme.

Welsh assembly Agriculture Secretary Christine Gwyther took a message of support from Prime Minister Tony Blair when she attended the exhibition. It said that measures to eradicate BSE were paying off when such a major player in the Dutch catering sector acknowledged the safety and quality of Welsh beef.

Welsh farming union leaders joined politicians and meat industry representatives in Amsterdam for the announcement. FUW president Bob Parry said the deal was conclusive proof that there was clear and strong demand for top quality Welsh beef on the Continent.

At the same time the union sent a delegation to meet the French Ambassador to point out that the contract "made a mockery of Frances illegal and immoral attitude to British beef."