5 June 1998

UKand Irish Europes lowest beef price against rise trend

By Philip Clarke

UK AND Irish beef producers continue to receive the lowest prices in Europe, having missed out on steady rises over the past 12 months elsewhere on the Continent.

Fuelled by a strong consumer preference for French product, prices in that country have climbed by 8%, to 10.7FrFr/kg lw for an R3 carcass. According to official figures from Brussels, that is the highest value anywhere in Europe, equivalent to over 110p/kg lw in sterling terms.

Labelling has played an important part in restoring consumer confidence in France. Since last October, packets of meat have shown the origin, category and breed of each animal. In a recent survey in Brittany, almost all the respondents said they wanted to know if beef was of French origin.

Prices have risen in almost all other EU countries, by an average of 4% when expressed in terms of ecus. But in the UK they have continued to fall. At the end of May the official reference price (based on an R3 animal) was just 80p/kg, some 6% down on 12 months ago. The reasons are well understood, namely the high level of slaughterings, the lack of export opportunities, the strength of sterling and the continued run of imports.

Household demand in the UK is now almost back to "pre-BSE" levels of early 1996, according to data from Audits of Great Britain.

Irish prices have also continued to languish, worth just 82p/kg lw at the end of May. "Ireland was the only cattle herd to record a rise in numbers at the end of 1997," says the Meat and Livestock Commission. "High production has weighed on price, as has the lowering of export refunds and thus opportunities on Third country export markets."