Total cattle numbers in the main EU producing states need to be treated with caution, because they include dairy herds as well as beef stock. Beef cow numbers have increased significantly in several countries while dairy herd contraction has been occurring nearly everywhere, and role of the milking cow in beef production varies from state to state. Nevertheless, the general picture is of overall EU beef production capacity stable this year and likely to shrink in 2001. The country to watch is Ireland ­ a major exporter. An exceptionally rapid rate of herd contraction means the Irish industry will be responsible for a disproportionate share of the change in total EU output. Any market shifts to which Irish traders are particularly vulnerable, such as the problems with French consumer demand or the current instability in the Middle East, could have knock-on effects within the UK because the Republic's exporters remain heavily dependent on purchases by the multiples and especially by customers outside the supermarket sector here. {{MEAT }}