The UK is facing a beef supply crisis from June 2009 if it doesn't accept more Holstein cows into the supply chain, a leading expert has warned.

Robert Forster, former chief executive of the National Beef Association, is working with the Beyond Calf Exports Stakeholders Forum to address the crisis. Projections put potential shortages of UK beef at 18%-19%.

At present at least 55% of the UK's beef comes from calves born to dairy cow dams. Many of these are cross-bred calves such as Holstein with Angus or Continental cows.

However, with EU milk quotas expected to be phased out by 2015 to open up competition, dairy farmers are looking to cash in on better prices by producing more 'pure' Holstein dairy cows.

Typically 40%-60% of calves produced in the dairy sector are cross-breeds. But last September as many as 80% of cows inseminated were specifically bred for the dairy market, said Forster. This will lead to approximately 350,000 more Holstein bull calves born from this June .

Currently only about 120,000-230,000 of the 480,000 Holstein bull calves born each year are reared for beef, with the rest exported or slaughtered at birth.

Many farmers are reluctant to use the Holstein calves for beef as they only receive about 235p/kg compared with the beef cattle average of 270p as Holsteins yield less meat than other breeds.

Farmers needed higher prices and more encouragement to produce Holsteins, Forster claimed. The breed could be promoted as a low-fat, healthy option, he added.

"All signs point to the UK beef sector being dangerously undersupplied in 12 months time unless more effort is made to rear and finish Holstein bull calves," Forster told The Grocer.

Retailers may not be able to meet the shortfall with imported beef, Forster warned, as Brazil is favouring the Russian and Chinese markets over the EU, and other South American countries have suffered political problems.