Mad cow tests to bring beef turmoil

By FWi staff

BEEF traders in the UK are studying closely the impact of BSE testing for older cattle in the rest of the EU.

From 01 January, scientists on the Continent must check brain tissue samples taken from all cattle over 30 months old before carcasses can enter the food chain.

It seems certain that the flow of cow beef on to the market will be slowed in some EU countries where laboratory procedures are less well advanced.

About 27% of Europes beef used to come from cows, but because realisation values of poor-quality cattle are likely to be lower than compensation offered by the new purchase for destruction scheme, a significant number of culls could go straight into incinerators.

Nobody is prepared to predict how much of the total volume of beef will be affected, or whether the expected decline will simply balance the sharp pre-Christmas drop in consumption, seen mainly in France, Germany and Italy where 50% of Europes beef is eaten.

“The whole European beef trade is set for a period of upheaval, and with so many factors involved it is impossible to forecast what will happen to prices,” says Duncan Sinclair, MLCs beef market specialist.

“Until things settle down I would urge British producers not to assume that they will benefit.”

In the short term he expects UK prime cattle prices to ease down from last weeks 92.4p/kg average as more animals come forward and the trade enters its traditional January blues.

Auctioneer Terry Court, vice-chairman of Brightwells, Hay-on-Wye, expects demand for best quality cattle to stay reasonably firm, but he anticipates prices for the terrible rubbish coming off some farms to be heavily discounted.

“Consumers now accept that ours is the safest beef in the world, but they are also demanding quality.

“Unfortunately, they are not paying enough to give producers a good return and cover the 200/beast I reckon is wasted on unnecessary bureaucracy.”

Mr Court urges producers to remember the adage “quality sells”, but marketing must be planned to realise the best return.

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