Multiple retailers are mixing large volumes of discounted beef from the Republic of Ireland (ROI) with more expensive beef produced within the UK, the National Beef Association can reveal.
And this is making it difficult to lift domestic prime cattle prices to the levels justified by increasingly tight supplies because cattle values in the ROI have been reducing steadily over recent weeks following sustained attacks on ex-farm prices from the country’s biggest processors.
“Slaughter cattle in the Republic of Ireland are £70-£80 a head cheaper than the UK average in sterling terms, and this combines with the interest of influential retailers like Asda in unusually high volumes of cheaper imported beef, to explain why cattle prices across Britain and Northern Ireland have begun to slip steadily on a progressive basis,” explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.
“Over 2007, and the first half of 2008, cattle in the UK became noticeably dearer after most retailers responded to industry encouragement to concentrate more of their sourcing on beef from home-produced animals and purchase less from the ROI which even recently was the source of about 62 per cent of beef imports.”
“However the most recent information shows that just Morrisons, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, the Co-op and Budgens deserve unstinting praise from everyone involved in the UK beef industry because they are the only multiple retail companies selling 100 per cent British.”
Recent survey figures also reveal that Tesco, which at one stage in 2007 had 98 per cent British beef on its shelves, is now offering only around 90 per cent.
While Sainsbury’s is retailing just 82 per cent British and Asda, which continues to have the lowest commitment to UK beef among the top four supermarkets, is offering around 40 per cent imported alongside about 60 per cent home produced.
“It is fortunate that only one supermarket, Netto, appears to sell only imported beef but recent in-store sales information clearly underlines the vulnerability of UK cattle prices to imports from the ROI when Irish cattle prices are moving downwards,” said Ms Haywood
“And it is significant that the Irish owned suppliers of both Asda and Sainsbury were specifically targeted last week by Irish farmers demonstrating against the persistent, and unexplained, fall in the value of their cattle.”
“Retailers should realize that the best way to sustain domestic cattle supplies is to raise their own prices so their suppliers can pay more for cattle and help farmers cover the cost of production.”
“The current situation, in which a processor led attack on Irish cattle values, is also being used as a lever to reduce the price of British stock, is not just counter-productive it is destructive too.”
“Additional retail survey information shows that Lidl sells around 96 per cent British beef, which is excellent, but the commitment of Somerfield, which offers about 71 per cent, and Aldi at around 61 per cent, is unsatisfactory,” Ms Haywood added.
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