20 June 2001
Unions hit out at EU beef reform plan

By Philip Clarke, Europe Editor

ATTEMPTS by Brussels to rebalance EU beef markets by re-jigging the support regime have been strongly criticised by farm leaders.

National Farmers Union president Ben Gill said the package, agreed late on Tuesday (19 June) night by farm ministers in Luxembourg, threatened to serve a major blow to an industry that has already suffered severely.

The EU was “simply applying a sticking plaster to a regime that is clearly out of date, heavily bureaucratic and market distorting”.

Ulster Farmers Union president Douglas Rowe warned that the new measures would only serve to complicate things.

They were “a complicated attempt to address the supply/demand question…which will have no immediate impact on the beef market.”

The package has been prompted by the collapse in EU beef markets following the escalation in the incidence of BSE last year.

It seeks to cut production by several means, including lowering the national ceilings for beef special premium for the next two years.

This is being calculated by taking the average number of claims made in 1997, 1998 and 1999 by each member state.

For the UK, this will mean a cut of 4% to 1.362m claims a year.

On the face of it, this would amount to a loss of premium to the UK of 5.3m, applied to individual producers through scalebacks to annual balancing payments.

But whether this ceiling will actually be exceeded in future will depend on the impact of another measure, to reduce stocking rates for claiming extensification premium.

This is coming down from 2 livestock units/ha currently to 1.9LU/ha next year and 1.8LU/ha in 2002.

“This will hit lowland producers especially hard and will cut the total number of premium claims the UK makes,” said NFU beef adviser, Kevin Pearce.

The NFU is especially angry that grassland beef production is being targeted in this way.

“The EU keeps talking about wanting to support this sort of farming, and also about making things simpler,” sad Mr Pearce. “Yet whenever they do anything, it has the exact opposite effect.”

There is one crumb of comfort, however.

Due to foot-and-mouth, UK producers are being excluded from a new rule, which stipulates that all claims for suckler cow premium must include between 15% and 40% heifers.

The UK will only have to include 5% in 2003.

They are also exempted from a new rule, which suspends for two years the redistribution of suckler cow quota taken into the national reserve because it has not met the minimum usage rules.

Farm ministers also agreed to reintroduce the 90-head limit for BSP and to raise this years ceiling for beef going into intervention from 350,000t to 500,000t.

EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler said the measures were essential to rebalance the market.

The backlog of cattle on farms would soon hit the market, he said, while consumption would take two years to get back to normal.

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