The increasing proportion of Republic of Ireland (ROI) beef being sold through Asda and Sainsburys is a direct threat to UK cattle production – and the UK processing operations of the Anglo-Irish companies which supply it.
So says the National Beef Association which has pointed out that less than half the fresh beef that has recently been moved through Asda is UK produced and that over 30 per cent of the beef sold by Sainsburys is ROI origin too.
“The crux of the problem, which is crucial to the future of the UK industry, is that beef coming in from the ROI is taken from cattle that are 13 per cent cheaper than similar stock moving through the UK system,” explained NBA director, Kim Haywood.
“And the weight of these heavily discounted imports, which already account for more than 20 per cent of beef consumed within the UK, is holding back the slaughter price of British cattle, which needs to rise well beyond an average of 300p per dwkg to keep long term farmer interest alive.”
“An impressive number of retailers including Morrisons, Waitrose, and M&S, have volunteered to take the 100 per cent British route but it is impossible for them, and others like the Co-op, Budgens and Lidl, to pay more for the beef they buy, and so stimulate improved returns for the UK farmer, if influential competitors as Asda and Sainsburys are selling large quantities of imported beef that costs a great deal less.”
Earlier this year it looked as if the value of commercial R4L steers and heifers would break through the 300p per kilo deadweight barrier and producer confidence would rise.”
“However this was stalled by the ever increasing weight of much cheaper ROI imports offered through two of our biggest multiple retailers,” said Ms Haywood.
“It is these, especially Asda, which are curbing price rises in supermarkets committed exclusively to UK beef because retailing is so competitive that no company dare risk raising its price unilaterally in case it drives customers away.”
“Unfortunately the NBA has already tracked a progressive, compound reduction, of at least three percent a year in UK beef output right through to 2012-13 as a result of recent, well documented, annual falls in breeding cow numbers. This damaging trend can only be reversed if UK farmers are persuaded, by a significant lift in income, to produce more beef.”
“The UK sections of Anglo-Irish companies are also under threat. Dawn Meats has two plants in England, and ABP now has ten across the UK, but if the beef herd is forced to reduce further as a result of import pressure, these abattoirs face a Catch 22 situation because they will struggle to stay in business, in exactly the same way as UK-owned operations, which depend exclusively on increased British beef production for their future as well,” Ms Haywood added.
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