10 March 1998
Brussels agrees to sheep meat intervention for UK
By Philip Clarke
A NEW sheep meat intervention scheme aimed at taking lamb off the severely depressed British and Irish markets has been accepted by Brussels.
The European Commission has agreed to introduce private storage aid for the UK and Ireland after six months of depressed prices.
Market managers will offer private storage aid later this month, paying traders some 1400 ecus/ t (97p/kg) to put lamb carcasses into stores for between three and five months.
Up to 3000t — equivalent to 150,000 carcasses — can be submitted in the UK and Ireland, from lambs born before 1 October, 1997.
The aim is to remove the surplus of hoggets that has pushed the market down to just 77p/kg liveweight. Hoggets were making almost twice that much this time last year.
But traders warn that the scheme may not get the support farmers are hoping. The aid works out at £18 a carcase, to cover the cost of freezing, boxing and storing sheep meat, and to cover any loss of value.
“It is the loss of value that is the big unknown,” said Brian Pack of Scotch Premier Meat. “The meat will be coming out in three months time just as the fresh spring lamb trade is reaching its peak. It is a big risk for a marginal profit,” he said.
Duncan Sinclair, economist at the Meat and Livestock Commission, also believes traders could be put off as the market could easily be on the mend by the time the scheme opens at the end of this month.
But the NFU has claimed the result an “important victory” which has come about only after weeks of joint lobbying with the Irish Farmers Association.
Ben Gill, NFU president, said the introduction of private storage aid on its own would not remove the severe losses being incurred by sheep farmers, but it should help to put some confidence back into the market.
David Williams, NFU livestock committee chairman, said it was better to clear the market now, through private storage aid, so that at least the Easter trade gets off to a more buoyant start.
And when the frozen product comes out in the summer, it should be possible to find outlets that do not compete directly with fresh lamb, the NFU argues.