Focus shifts to non-EU suppliers as Irish production falls BSE makes the headlines but commercial reality in the UK beef sector is more about increasing tension between suppliers of home-killed product and the overseas processors winning a growing share of the market here. Early in the week major retailers were insisting they had seen no evidence yet of sales slipping after publication of the Phillips Report and other potentially troublesome news including the death of the youngest CJD victim so far and the consumer backlash in France. Some gossip in the wholesale sector challenged this, but household purchase data from market researcher Taylor Nelson Sofres following other BSE stories in recent months can be interpreted as giving the supermarkets' claims credibility. Live cattle prices early in the week were fairly steady, most just below 90p, also suggesting there was no panic in the marketplace. However, MLC's latest Cattle Market Outlook bulletin (see story right), published a day after the Phillips Report, drew attention to supply side trends open to interpretation as potentially destabilising for prices. "Imports remain a feature of the market as supplies from the Irish Republic are maintained and more is received from non-EU suppliers," according to the MLC analysts. They describe consumption as showing "positive trends" and expect no radical change next year. Imports, however, are forecast to jump nearly 15% next year after negligible change in the current 12 months period. With only a small rise in home production expected and consumption unchanged, importers' market share will increase from 21% to over 24%. This implies increasing scope for price volatility in response to such factors as currency fluctations, and means the timing of a rundown in Irish supply to the benefit of third country shippers could be a crucial influence on the market. {{MEAT }}