Long-term risk to lamb for France

By James Garner

UK LAMB exports to France may be threatened by the French food standard agencys draconian recommendation of further safety measures for lamb and goat meat in the wake of Frances mad cow crisis.

Reports from the 38th SIA Show, Paris, suggest that supermarket chains Auchan and Carrefour noticed a 20-25% drop in lamb sales last weekend.

This followed a recommendation by the food standard agency (AFSSA) that specified risk material from all sheep over six months old should be removed.

It could have disastrous effects on an export market that is booming.

Mike Gooding, of sheep export company Farmers Fresh, said: “Live exports to France alone are running at 16,000 lambs a week, about twice the level of last year.

“And the French market wants heavier lambs, evidence that beef is being substituted for lamb.”

He estimated that any legislation meeting AFSSAs recommendations would slow processing lines by 40%, reducing competitiveness.

It would also mean tracing lambs to their date of birth, something impossible in the UK, said Remi Fourrier, manager of Meat and Livestock Commission France.

“This may be an advantage for French producers, but it would produce limited supply. In reality it would be impractical,” he said.

AFSSA had little support at SIA for what was branded an “ill-timed and irresponsible” announcement by President Jacques Chirac in Mondays edition of French newspaper Le Figaro.

The head of Interbev, the French equivalent of the MLC, Jean Louis Bignon, was equally critical.

“It is taking the precautionary principle too far, but I think it will pass through to the EU commission. It could be bad for UK producers though.”

Most commentators felt the French government would refer AFSSAs recommendations back to the EU, rather than taking unilateral action.

But some feared it could become a political football between President Chirac and Frances Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

In this case, more protection measures may be taken.

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