Beef exporters get set for Europe

14 July 1999

Beef exporters get set for Europe

By Johann Tasker

BELGIUM, Holland and France are being tipped as potentially lucrative markets for British beef once exports resume at the beginning of August.

The three countries, which were among those hardest hit by the dioxin animal feed scare in May, are likely to be targeted once shipments start again.

A European Union (EU) official quoted in todays London Evening Standard said sales of Irish beef in Belgium have soared since the dioxin scare.

“Belgian consumers are likely to now regard UK beef as far safer than anything from their own farms,” he said.

The first company to send British beef abroad following todays lifting of the three-year-old export ban is set to be Cornwall-based St Merryn Meat.

European Commission officials cleared St Merryn for export earlier this year and the company is now waiting for its export license.

St Merryn chairman Terry Johnson said he was confident the licencing procedure will be completed soon and that exports will begin sometime next month.

“We have an opportunity to prove what weve been saying for the last three years – that UK farmers are producing the best quality and safest beef in the world,” he said.

But regaining the export market will be a long, hard haul, Mr Johnson added, and it is only now that serious negotiations can begin with potential buyers.

Beef exports from other meat processing companies are unlikely for several months because of strict conditions laid down by the European Commission.

British plants processing beef for exports must be dedicated to processing de-boned meat and beef products from animals born after 1 August 1996.

Shropshire-based ABP, which received the Queens Award for exports the day before the beef export ban was announced in March 1996, will not resume shipments.

ABP was shipping £50million of beef every year to Italy before the BSE crisis but said today it was not able to meet the criteria that would allow exports to restart.

The company has since built up its share on the domestic market and “it would be absurd” to sacrifice those sales just to resume exports, said an ABP spokesman.

In Scotland, no individual company has felt able to take the financial risk of dedicating one of its processing plants to export-quality beef.

But it is possible that the market for Scotch beef in Belgium and Italy could be regained, said John Ross, chairman of the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association.

Scotlands meat wholesalers are currently exploring the potential of a joint venture to establish a central dedicated plant at which exports could be handled.

Alan Kirkwood, president of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, said he welcomed the news that exports could resume.

He promised the association would do all it could to promote exports but conceded he was “unconvinced” concerning the practicalities doing so.

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