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.
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.