Irish beef prices put pressure on UK market

Supermarket shelves are giving way to cheap imports of Irish beef, the National Beef Association (NBA) has claimed.

The NBA said that retailers are importing large volumes of beef from the Republic of Ireland (ROI), where cattle values have been reducing steadily following "sustained attacks" on farmgate prices by some of the country's biggest processors.

The increase in cheaper Irish imports is having a negative effect on prices in the UK, which have begun to slip after impressive increases over 2007 and the first half of 2008.

"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.

The NBA praised Morrisons, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, the Co-op and Budgens for sourcing 100% British beef, but said recent figures revealed that Tesco, which, at one stage in 2007, had 98% British beef on its shelves, is now offering only 90%. Sainsbury's is retailing 82% British beef and Asda only 60%. Discount store Netto appears to sell only imported beef.

Haywood said the information highlights the vulnerability of UK cattle prices to falling cattle values in Ireland, pointing out that it is "significant that the Irish-owned suppliers of both Asda and Sainsbury's were specifically targeted last week by Irish farmers demonstrating against the persistent, and unexplained, fall in the value of their cattle."

She warned that the current situation in Ireland is being "used as a lever" to reduce the price of British stock, which is "not just counter-productive but destructive too".

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