EU beef sector faces import 'crisis'

UK - Industry leaders were putting a brave face on their forecasts for the future of the red meat industry at the Meat and Livestock Commission's annual outlook conference in London yesterday, only for top Irish pundit Matt Dempsey to dash their hopes.
calendar icon 31 January 2007
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Best forecasts indicated a continuing decline in the EU beef and dairy herds with imports from South America continuing to prop up supply, he said.

Beef production from beef cattle was a "minority sport" in Europe, with only 12 million cows in the former EU-15 of which only France, Britain, Spain and Ireland had over one million head each.

Both beef and dairy herds were expected to decline over the next eight years, with an attendant 1 per cent annual fall in EU beef production.

"These trends coupled with the favourable consumption pattern which has developed over the last few years is expected to throw up a chasm between consumption and production which is expected to be over one million tonnes by 2015.

"Not surprisingly, the other side of this coin is the almost total collapse in the export out of the community," he said.

The overall EU beef requirement was going to be met, in the main from South America. - Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina - and this would tend to undermine prices for UK and other European producers.

"Even at present tariff levels, there are large volumes of imports - especially of high-value cuts - which are favoured by the fat per kg duty system..

"To maintain and preferably increase producer incomes in beef is going to need differentiation in the product. No other developed economy, except the EU, buys fresh beef from Brazil. It is Europe that is uniquely vulnerable and is the main target of the marketing effort."

There were two key issues, he said. The first was labelling and identification to the consumer; the second was the actual type of beef on offer.

"Importing chicken from Thailand or Brazil, throwing a few breadcrumbs on it and calling it British or Irish, is clearly a nonsense. Whether the labelling nettle will really be grasped, with prosecutions and prison sentences for offenders, remains to be seen."

Source: The Scotsman
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