June 24, 2011


UK beef shortage could lead to import increase from Australia



A shortage of quality, affordable beef in UK is increasing the already dominant consumption figures of white meats, but Australian beef exports may alleviate the shortfall.


Dramatic falls in beef production across the EU and a drop in imports from the former giant South American suppliers, coupled with an almost corresponding number of exports flowing out of the region, are largely blamed for the beef shortfall.


Exporters such as Argentina and Brazil are exporting less beef to the UK due to several factors, but mainly because of increased global demand that's providing major beef exporters with more viable alternative markets, many of which have fewer barriers to trade.


For example, in 2007 Brazil exported 27,428 tonnes of chilled and frozen beef to the UK. Last year that had plummeted to just 582 tonnes.


England's closest neighbour, Ireland, remains its biggest export supplier, exporting 64,092 tonnes last year, falling from the 153,221 tonnes it exported in 2008.


Liz Murphy, director of the UK's International Meat Trade Association, which represents about 50 meat traders who will be responsible for negotiating about 180,000 tonnes of foreign beef into the UK this year, says there is a shortage of beef not only in the UK but across Europe.


As supply tightens and price goes up, chefs in the hotel and restaurant trade are either offering smaller cuts of beef or leaving it off the menu altogether in favour of other protein sources.


"What we're seeing from experience is that when diners are faced with an absence of beef from the menu they won't make demands for it, they will just move to another protein being offered," said Murphy.


Official data confirms that consumption patterns show a strong preference for poultry and pork are being set as the norm, removing beef as a key staple of the nation's protein diet.


Jason Strong, Meat and Livestock Australia's regional manager in Europe, says the declining influence of export competitors in the EU means Australian beef producers are well positioned to exert a greater presence in the market.


"We need to build our reputation as the preferred supplier of clean, high quality, great tasting beef that always meets its quota commitments at a viable price for the local market," he said.


Last year Australia sent 1791 tonnes of chilled and frozen grassfed and grainfed beef to the UK, the lowest total in five years.


Strong said the European market was tightly controlled with several quotas, which largely went unfilled last year.


Next year, the quotas for Australian beef are expected to substantially grow again, but Strong is concerned that Australian beef producers may not be ready to capitalise on the opportunities the Euro market presents.


"To get anywhere near the numbers we require to fill those quotas next year we need to double the number of available EU accredited cattle in the next 12 months," he said.


"I think it's do-able, but we have to be prepared to have a red hot go if we want to expand our presence in a market that harbours as yet still untapped potential for Australian beef producers."

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