SCOTLAND, UK – Beef farmers have been given government reassurance that reasons for a sudden drop in cattle prices are being investigated.
Rural Affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead has said Food Standards Scotland and industry levy board Quality Meat Scotland will collaborate to find whether imported beef wrongly labelled as UK meat is partly to blame for this year’s cattle price crash.
Early last month, NFU Scotland rang alarm bells at abattoir prices being 20 pence per kilo back on the same time a year ago.
The union said a ‘backlog’ of beef had arisen, blaming, in part, a rise in imports as the euro’s recent weakness had made exporting from the UK tough and opened the door for Irish beef in particular.
Mr Lochhead said he had met many ‘very concerned’ farmers suspecting mislabelled beef could be to blame.
He added: “The speculation that imported meat is being passed off as a domestic product is a serious matter.
“It’s important that we fully understand this issue, which is why I’ve asked Quality Meat Scotland to investigate the level of beef imports since the start of the year, and any contributing factors that are having an effect on the price of cattle.”
Commenting on the overall outlook for 2015, Stewart Ashworth, head of economics services at QMS, said the cattle outlook appeared more promising after a sluggish start.
QMS is certain supply will diminish bringing ‘firmness’ to the market.
He said: “What has happened is the volume of cattle has been starting to fall, resulting in Scottish and UK abattoirs handling fewer prime cattle, although this has been slightly offset by an increase in cow slaughterings.
For example, during March Scottish abattoirs handled seven percent fewer cattle than a year ago and in England and Wales the numbers were down two percent for prime stock but unchanged overall.
“However, the price has also continued to fall, reflecting the fact that cattle are being slaughtered at heavier weights. As a result, although the number of cattle being slaughtered has reduced, the volume of beef produced over the first quarter had increased by one percent.”
He echoed sentiments on currency, blaming the strength of the sterling for diminished export opportunities.
Referring to recent British Cattle Movement Service data, he said cattle volumes were to contract over the next six to nine months.
“This will mean the abattoirs will be able to manage the sale of less popular cuts out of their cold stores and the whole supply and demand balance will come closer together.”
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