Livestock industry leaders have said that France has expressed an interest in importing ‘nearly finished’ beef cattle from the UK once normal British beef exports are resumed early next year.
Richard Haddock, chair of the NFU national livestock board, said: “If the UK processors and retailers don’t get organised and offer beef farmers a better price, many will be tempted by the higher prices offered by other countries, such as France,
to export cattle at between 18 and 20 months of age.
“The top third of suckler intensive beef farmers need a minimum of 195p/kg deadweight just to break even. They need 220p/kg dw to allow for a small profit.”
French prices for under-30-month beef currently average 220p/kg dw compared with 184p/kg dw in the UK. The nearly finished UK cattle would appeal to French farmers who could still claim a slaughter premium - around £50 per head - if cattle are on French soil for 60 days. This is the typical time it takes for an animal to be finished for slaughter. After this time, the beef can also be sold as French.
Haddock said: “I see live exports as a way for farmers to command a better price and stay in business.”
Talks with Dutch veal traders have also begun in order to re-start live calf exports. “Dutch veal producers have made it clear that they want live exports from the UK,” said Haddock.
In the past, live exports of cattle have sparked protests by animal rights groups. But Haddock insisted that their concerns would be addressed. “The calves will be transported in purpose-built, sealed and air-conditioned trailers and will travel by night to minimise stress to the animals.”