Meat import talks concern

Meat importers have expressed concern over recent reports which claimed the European market could face an "influx of cheap meat" as the result of trade talks between the EU and the Mercosur countries.

Doug Brydges, president of the International Meat Trade Association, said misleading claims surrounding imports from interested parties and producer groups, failed to highlight the need for imported meat within markets like the UK. He said: "Imports often provide balance; prime cuts of beef would disappear off the menu in many restaurants without them. In the UK, we eat more of the premium cuts than we produce, so without imports we run the risk of restaurants taking beef off the menu simply because it's too expensive.

"Whenever talks with the Mercosur countries are mentioned, EU farmers jump on the bandwagon and claim that everyone will switch to cheap imported meat and ignore home-produced, and it's just not the case but no-one challenges that view."

Concern had risen since it was announced the EU was in talks with the Mercosur countries to slash tariffs between the two trading blocks, as reported in MTJ 15 May. Brydges pointed out that, with the exception of Uruguay, meat production was falling across Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay and internal consumption was rising. "The amount available for export is not going to be a real issue."

Recent reports in The Grocer claimed poultry meat could be affected. The NFU's chief poultry adviser Rob Newberry told the magazine: "The softest target is always going to be poultry meat products. There's a chance of it undercutting the wider poultry market and reducing the price paid back to farmers in the UK on fresh poultry meat."

However, Brydges dismissed the claim: "Poultry meat prices have gone up by 40% between 2006 and 2009. That has happened despite big increases of imported meat from the EU. It's wrong to suggest home producers will fall by the wayside if imports increase."

He said little attention was paid to the good things that imports could bring to a market: "What we're all concerned about is the long-term availability of meat that is affordable for the UK consumer."

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