Beef continues to be a buyers' market in the UK as the home kill mounts while traders struggle to clear imported stocks and signs begin to emerge of a consumer resistance. But on the continent, sellers are more positive than a fortnight ago. Signals from the agriculture ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday indicate that the beef crisis' is being downgraded to a serious problem'. Policymakers and administrators have taken heart from evidence of stability returning to cattle markets. Modest price increases were even seen in 10 of the 15 states during the w/e March 16. Ironically, the fmd epidemic in the UK and its possible spread to the continent may even have eased the pressure by further slowing the release of livestock into the meat market and perhaps perking up consumer demand for beef, most notably in France where the cessation of UK sheepmeat imports has forced up lamb prices and prompted substitute purchases. Overall, EU beef consumption is believed to be down about 25% on that prior to the BSE scares in France late last year. Brussels officials admit "the figures are rather subjective" but believe the decline has stopped. The total market imbalance is also seen as less alarming than a few weeks ago, partly because some member states are achieving surprisingly strong export sales. Extra shipments from Ireland and the continent into the UK when the kill here was halted are only part of the story. Breeding cattle sales to Russia, for instance, are giving unexpected buoyancy to parts of the EU market, while more than 140,000 tonnes of beef have been taken into intervention and 100,000 tonnes have gone through the destruction scheme. {{M/E MEAT }}