Europe shrugs of beef setbacks

23 March 2001

Europe shrugs of beef setbacks

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

EUROPES beef market is showing the first signs of recovery since BSE hit the headlines last November, though the position is extremely delicate.

"The market most hit by the crisis is Germany," EU agriculture commissioner, Franz Fischler told farm ministers this week. "But, for the fifth week, we have seen prices for young bulls getting slightly better. This positive trend is the consequence of slowly recovering demand."

Conventional intervention and the "purchase for destruction" scheme, which have so far removed some 240,000t of unwanted beef, helped prices up in 10 member states last week, fuelling the cautious optimism.

But Mr Fischler added that the situation remained fragile. Overall, young bull prices were still 26.6% down on pre-November 2000 levels, with cows some 24.4% lower. Consumption was also down by about 25% for the EU as a whole.

"The light on the horizon could disappear again, especially as a result of the foot-and-mouth catastrophe," he said.

In a further attempt to relieve the situation, the commission last week confirmed details of a new "special purchase scheme" for older cows. This is available in countries that have shown they can test all over-30-month animals for BSE and where cow prices are below a certain trigger level for two weeks running.

This is currently the case in nine member states, though some of them, notably Ireland, are likely to continue using the purchase for destruction scheme, which also takes in steers, until that expires at the end of June. Ireland has been given the third best trigger price at k193/100kg (122p/kg), though France has the highest, at k218/100kg (138p/kg).

Meat taken under the new special purchase scheme may be destroyed or stored for future sale. Under the purchase for destruction scheme, it has to be destroyed, which has prompted uproar in some countries concerned about the ethics.

The UK is exempt from these schemes, since it has its own over-30-month policy.

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