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Stackyard News Jul 07

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Are Beef Importers Putting Pressure on UK Prices?

Supermarket chiefs, burger manufacturers and catering chains must ask themselves whether their attitude to imports is fundamentally damaging the structure of the UK beef industry and undermining the security of future domestic supplies, the National Beef Association said today.

NBA chairman Duff Burrell

duff burrell

It accepts that with the UK only 75 per cent self-sufficient in beef around 250,000 tonnes must be imported each year to balance supplies and maintain consumption.

“But the philosophy and strategy behind the purchase of imports is of primary importance to the ability of UK farmers to continue to deliver beef in the quantity and quality currently required of them,” explained Association chairman Duff Burrell.

“Are the multiples importing beef only to top up their requirement for popular cuts like steak simply because there are not enough of these available in the UK”?

“Or are they, and others, using imports as a tactical tool to reduce the cost of their purchases from UK based processors and to force down the price of UK cattle to levels that are much lower than they otherwise would be?”

According to the NBA it is impossible to argue against imports that are used to top up, and balance, domestic deliveries against seasonal shifts and surges in consumer demand – as long as their production provenance matches UK standards.

“But if imports are purchased in higher volumes than necessary simply to maintain retail margins by forcing down purchasing costs then they have to be seen by farmers as a hostile and cynical tool that is being used against their interests and also the supply security interests of the UK as a whole.”

“The NBA has no doubts that the major purchasers are split into these two camps and has no issue at all with those companies which do their utmost to purchase as much of their beef as possible from UK sources.”

“However there are others, many of them supplied by Anglo-Irish companies which have access to cattle in both the UK and the Republic of Ireland (ROI), which are well embedded in the other camp and enjoy the advantages of being able to benefit from the ability of their suppliers play off each of these national cattle markets against each other.”

”Purchases by these companies are constantly adjusted so they can source as much beef as possible from the most advantageously priced supply pool and as a result finished cattle prices in each country are forced down to levels that are lower than they should be.”

“Fresh beef deliveries from the ROI account for 70 per cent of total imports and these corporate policies, which are cynical and short sighted, are a danger to the continuation of current levels of beef production in both the UK and the ROI.”

“Furthermore the damage is often multiplied because one of the signals of the intention to import simply put to put pressure on ex-farm prices, rather than just top up on what is unavailable in the UK, is a deliberate effort to blur the origin of the beef they sell and brand it only as a company product,” Mr Burrell added.

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